Black Panther, the eighteenth entry in the Marvel franchise is a powerful, emotionally engaging and action-packed origin story about identity, African diaspora and the distribution of wealth. It’s a landmark moment in cinema, a black superhero finally gets his own film in the MCU and director Ryan Coogler uses his mega budget and writing skills to deliver a bold action movie that’s both celebratory and politically minded. There’s exhilarating high-speed car chases, tense hand to hand combat sequences, cool gadgets galore and exquisitely designed Afro-futurism costumes by Ruth E Carter that all blend together to create a vibrant blockbuster that flows over with passion and personality.
A lot of information is relayed to the viewer as the film begins, it moves between 1990s Oakland, California where gun crime, drug deals and double-crossing steals lives away, and then to Wakanda, London, Nigeria and Busan. Each mysterious layer builds the slowly unfolding story while shading in the characters’ motivations by explaining their roots.
The incredibly stellar cast is led by a majestic Chadwick Boseman, reprising the role of T’Challa and finding him at a cross-roads in his life. He’s about to inherit the throne of Wakanda, a technologically advanced, wealthy and hidden African country. The country is powered by Vibranium – a metal that has been mined in secret for thousands of years and is in great demand by villainous characters. With this generational transition of power, the new king must decide whether to stick with tradition or progress with modern ideas, but first, he must defend his throne from those who challenge his leadership.
There are a couple of warriors who try to defeat T’Challa but the focus is in on a complex villain, with a name to suit, Erik Killmonger (Michael B Jordan). From the moment Jordan appears on screen he is a menacing yet charismatic presence who thanks to a nuanced script is a character injected with a sympathetic edge. Even when he’s at his most terrifying and rage-fuelled his anger is understandable.
T’Challa is joined by Okoye (Danai Gurira), the general of the Dora Milaje, (an all-female army charged with protecting king and country) and Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o), a Wakandan spy who once dated T’Challa. This marvellous trio get heaps of screen time in intricately designed action sequences. The camera swoops over the women as they leap across a casino in brightly coloured, glamorous gowns and elements of the spy thriller are spliced in to great effect. Women are front and centre in these shots, not just propping up the titular character. Letitia Wright turns in a bubbly, cheeky performance as Shuri – sister to the king and head of technology. She’s completely enamoured with her fantastic inventions and loves to show them off. Angela Bassett is perfectly cast in the role of Queen of Wakanda, adding her usual gravitas and charm to every scene she appears in.
DOP Rachel Morrison delivers a plethora of gorgeous vistas that wash over the screen and each one holds specific meaning. In a waterfall ceremony where Zuri (Forest Whitaker) takes away T’Challa’s powers the five tribes of Wakanda are seen dancing atop rocks to a score by Ludwig Göransson that rumbles with intent and purpose. As part of the ceremony T’Challa is covered in red soil and taken to an ancestral land where the skies sparkle a calming purple and pink. It provides stark contrast to the discontent that leads to a charging battle between the tribes.
Towards the end of the film Coogler inserts a twist on a Nigerian proverb, “In the moment of crisis, the wise build bridges and the foolish build barriers.” It’s hard not to read this as an intentional dig at POTUS and with the film’s themes on the importance of constructing a fair and just society that lends a helping hand in times of need that’s probably what was on his mind.