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Black Panther (2018) written and directed by Ryan Coogler

An African superhero

This Marvel Comics is centred around Wakanda, a fictional African country which, unknown to the rest of the world, is a technologically advanced civilisation due to it being situated on a huge deposit of vibranium, a mineral from an alien planet. The nation is ruled by a figure known as the Black Panther who wears a suit made of the material, thus bestowing them with superpowers. When the previous Black Panther king is killed in a terrorist attack by Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis), his son T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) stands to succeed him.

Before he can do so, however, he must go through a ceremony above a waterfall overseen by Zuri (Forest Whitaker) where representatives of the country’s other tribes can challenge him in one-on-one combat. M’Baku (Winston Duke) rises up to the challenge but T’Challa wins out over him, thus sealing his position as the next king and Black Panther.

The first test of Black Panther’s abilities comes soon enough: Klaue has teamed up with a mysterious radical named Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) and instigated a violent heist to steal a vibranium Wakandan axe from a museum in London. He has transported the weapon to South Korea to sell to FBI agent Everett Ross (Martin Freeman). Black Panther and his assistants Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o) and Okoye (Danai Gurira) head to the casino where the exchange is taking place. Much mayhem ensues and Killmonger’s true identity and plans are revealed.

Watch a trailer:

Is it worthy of the hype?

Black Panther has been subject to a colossal amount of hype, being touted as the first black superhero movie (which it certainly isn’t… Blade anyone?) It has also received a large number of overwhelmingly positive advance reviews of late. I came in and watched it expecting greatness and… unfortunately, that wasn’t what I got. While it isn’t bad by any means and has a fair amount going for it but it’s far from a perfect superhero film.

One of the problems here is director Ryan Coogler. His debut was the excellent low-budget drama Fruitvale Station in 2013 which also featured Michael B. Jordan. His second film, the mid-budget Creed: The Rocky Legacy (2015) also received widespread acclaim. For Black Panther he was granted $200 million but he seems to have let the overwhelming vastness of the production run away from him. In true MCU fashion the film features a considerable number of vast CGI worlds and lengthy action sequences but the former fail to be believable and the latter jump around hyperactively like Michael Bay on crack.

There’s one tribe who live high in the mountains on elaborate wildly impractical platforms which look incredibly exposed to the elements. However, when we don’t see any of the characters shiver when standing on said platforms it makes the overly glossy FX look even more fake than they otherwise would. During a large climactic battle the camera zips around trying to follow CGI rhinos around as well as jumping in focus between a number of different parties every few seconds. It’s so hard to process the overall progress of the action that it’s almost impossible to feel truly invested in it.

Black Panther (2018)

Some highlights amongst the cast

The film fares somewhat better in its casting. Chadwick Boseman is a little bland as the eponymous hero but Michael B. Jordan makes for a compelling villain, sidestepping hamminess for a singularly intimidating undercurrent of bitterness. Andy Serkis’s Klaue goes in the opposite direction but is a lot of fun, relishing his sadistic glee at the wild mayhem which is his stock and trade. Letitia Wright is another highlight as T’Challa’s bratty but sharp younger sister Shuri, who functions as the film’s Q-style gadget boffin. It’s somewhat strange to see Martin Freeman as the FBI agent who functions as a secondary hero here but he’s OK.

There are also a few interesting shades of grey painted in here about the nature of both Wakanda and the villainous Killmonger. However, it is all the more disappointing that these political nuances are resolved in a rather blandly simplistic manner, thus squandering the chance to make a truly radical superhero venture. That’s the film as a whole: it’s blandly watchable with just enough in the way of story, character moments and humour in between the somewhat messy big FX sequences to hold the interest for the lengthy runtime. Go and watch Black Panther by all means but keep your expectations modest.

Runtime: 134 mins

Dir: Ryan Coogler

Script: Ryan Coogler, Joe Robert Cole, based on Marvel comics characters created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby

Starring: Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Martin Freeman, Daniel Kaluuya, Letitia Wright, Winston Duke, Sterling K. Brown, Angela Bassett, Forest Whitaker, Andy Serkis

Rating: ☆☆☆

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