Black Panther director: Ryan Coogler
Black Panther Rating: 4/5
Most superhero films have a set plot. You have the good hero who strives hard to do what is right, and it usually involves saving a city or their own country. There are a couple of sidekicks who help him or her in this. There is the normal bad guy who is drunk on power, and is out to pull the rug from beneath the hapless hero’s feet.
But the art of a good superhero, or rather any film, lies in its packaging, and how the same story is shown to the audience, but in a different manner.
And Black Panther does exactly that. Laced with intricacies of different African cultures, Ryan Coogler touches on serious themes such as oppression and subjugation, questioning the role of global superpowers in the world today.
Welcome to Wakanda, a fictional African nation, hidden away from the prying eyes of the world, behind thick rainforests and intimidating mountains. It is uncolonised, and it revels in its freedom.
You can’t help but be awed by Wakandan rituals, architecture and a plethora of dialects from Mali, Nigeria, Kenya and Ethiopia.
To the world, they’re a struggling third-world nation. But it’s just the opposite in Wakanda; it’s a thriving place owing to the supply of vibranium. Vibranium is an invaluable meteoric ore, and is the sole reason behind Wakanda’s technological prowess.
Black Panther begins after the events of Captain America: Civil War. T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman), whose father, T’Chaka was murdered in Captain America, has to return to Wakanda, as he is now the rightful king. Not only does he have to defend his throne against local competitors, but outsiders who are on the lurch as well. With his highly-intelligent sister Shuri by his side, and a brand new Black Panther suit, he seems invincible.
That is, till a spectrum of changes creeps into his life, in the form of a vengeful Eric Killmonger (Michael B Jordan). T’Challa isn’t prepared for this threat, as he is too busy fighting Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis). You get to see a slick and entertaining action-packed sequence in Korea.
Eric carries a secret about T’Chaka’s past, that has been carefully kept buried. Yet, all the secrets are revealed, and T’Challa is pitted against him in a gruelling challenge.
We’re used to seeing uni-dimensional villains, and their cliched monologues, unnecessary swag and the usual villain-hero battles. But this is where Black Panther’s strength lies. Eric is a different villain, as he represents the blend of different cultures, someone who is torn between his two identities, and is struggling to deal with a painful past. He wants the best for the people. And so for the first time in ages, a Marvel villain was actually a pleasant surprise. In an interesting turn of events, after a slick action sequence, Black Panther and the villain actually have a brief, yet powerful conversation.
There are two ideologies that emerge strongly in the story: one of the old preservationists, like T’ Challa’s mother Ramonda (Angela Bassett) and Okoye (Danai Gurira), who believe that the country must continue as it always has, hidden from the world. Others like W’Kabi (Daniel Kaluuya) and Nakia (Lupita Nyong’O), who believe that Wakanda has the power to help the less fortunate. But Wakanda can’t remain oblivious to the world for long; it too must adapt itself to the changing world around.
Of course, no film is completely without flaws, and Black Panther has a fair share of them. T’Challa’s emotions towards Eric seem rather inconsistent at points, and they flits rather quickly from sorrow, to rage, and back to grief. T’Challa himself seems to fall into the old, bland good superhero garb several times, throughout the film.
Chadwick Boseman seems to be a convincing Black Panther for most of the film. Yet, interestingly, it’s the supporting women characters, Nakia, Shuri, Okoyo and Ramonda who outshine him. Shuri, played by a fantastic Letita Wright, is brilliant in every frame that she is in. The women are more of a match for the men in this film than merely ornamental.
Black Panther had the difficult task of being the precursor to Marvel’s The Avengers: Infinity War. It has done a superb job and risen up to the challenge with finesse.