Reviewed by GREG KING

Director: Ryan Coogler

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

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The 18th film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe serves up something a little different. With the recent Guardians Of The Galaxy and Thor: Ragnarok the Marvel head honchos shook up the usual increasingly tired formula by introducing plenty of improvised humour and a looser feel to proceedings. With Black Panther they give us the first Marvel film to feature an African-American superhero and a primarily African American cast. Black Panther deals with themes of race, power and responsibility, and serves up a wonderfully diverse mix of characters, cultures, racial and gender equality that bring a sense of freshness to the usual Marvel formula.

Black Panther was originally created in 1966 by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby and was the first black superhero to appear in mainstream comics. That was the same year that the Black Panther activist group was formed, and Marvel briefly tried to distance their creation from the politics by renaming him Black Leopard. The name change wasn’t popular with fans, and soon reverted back to the original name. There have been many attempts in the fifty years since to bring the character to the big screen, including one from Wesley Snipes in 1992 that never got off the ground, but so far all we have is an animated tv series that ran for 12 episodes in 2010, and a 1987 video game.

We were first introduced to T’Challa (aka Black Panther), an African prince from the fictional and reclusive country of Wakanda, in the film Captain America: Civil War, which pitted the Avengers against each other. This stand-alone film gives us more of the Black Panther’s back story, and acts as a bridge to the forthcoming Avengers: Infinity War. After his father was killed in a bomb blast at the UN, T’Challa returns home to Wakanda to take up the throne and continue to protect his people and his country. While the rest of Africa is largely poverty-stricken, Wakanda is a wealthy and technologically advanced country thanks to the discovery of a powerful mineral known as Vibranium. This is a super metal that has been used for Captain America’s shield and has allowed the country to prosper.

But soon after assuming the throne, T’Challa (played by Chadwick Boseman, from 42, and the James Brown biopic Get On Up, etc) finds his sovereignty challenged by his evil cousin Erik Killmonger (Michael B Jordan), a former military black ops agent who grew up in California. He is ambitious to export Wakanda’s technology and weapons to the rest of the world. Killmonger is in league with ruthless South African arms dealer Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis). T’Challa must assemble a fighting force to defeat the threat posed by these two and prevent Wakanda from being dragged into a world war. Amongst his loyal supporters is CIA agent Everett Ross (Martin Freeman); Nakia (Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o, from 12 Years A Slave, etc), a fiercely independent warrior; Okoye (Danai Guira, from The Walking Dead, etc), the head of Wakanda’s all-female secret service; and Shuri (Letitia Wright), T’Challa’s feisty younger sister and Wakanda’s answer to Q – a technical genius who has created his high-tech suit and futuristic weaponry.

Black Panther has been brought to the screen by young filmmaker Ryan Coogler, whose first film was the powerful drama Fruitvale Station, a true story of injustice. He followed that with Creed, the superb Rocky sequel that featured a career best performance from Sylvester Stallone. This is easily his most ambitious film to date, with a lavish budget, huge set pieces, and an overdose of CGI special effects. He directs the material with confidence, and there is a carefully choreographed shootout sequence set in a casino that was apparently shot in one take. There is a huge battle sequence at the end that eventually becomes a little too predictable, and exhausting to watch, and is eventually overwhelmed by the CGI effects.

The film runs a generous 134 minutes, and at times the pacing is a little uneven. The script, from Coogler and Joe Robert Cole (American Crime Story, etc) is a bit of a mess. The film is visually superb though, thanks to some spectacular production design from regular collaborator Hannah Beachler and Rachel Morrison’s cinematography.

Boseman brings a regal grace and dignity to his performance in the title role, and plays the character as something of an anti-hero. Jordan has appeared in all of Coogler’s three feature films to date. His villainous Killmonger (a wonderful name for a Marvel villain) is actually a more memorable character here than the titular Black Panther, who is a bit bland in contrast to some of the other Marvel superheroes. Jordan brings charisma and a real physicality and attitude to his role. Serkis appears without his usual motion capture suits or makeup, and he brings a nasty edge to his performance as the roguish Klaue. Wright brings some welcome touches of humour to her performance. Angela Bassett brings a touch of dignity and gravitas to her performance as T’Challa’s mother Queen Ramonda, while Forest Whitaker plays Zuri, the elder statesman of the Wakanda people and keeper of the sacred herb that gives Black Panther his powers.

Black Panther may be a revolutionary film within the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but it is also one that requires a huge suspension of disbelief. It has been hugely hyped, and expectations were high before the film hit screens. However, the finished product may well divide audiences and non-fans will wonder what the fuss was about.


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