“Black Panther” is a historic movie. In the past, black superheroes have been relegated to campy B-movies (see “Steel” or “The Meteor Man”) or incidental, transient roles (“Blade” or “Hancock”). Never has there been such a singular, Afrocentric focus on characters to this level of magnitude. Never have generations of black children had a superhero that feels like it was made for them. “Black Panther” has changed all of this.
Directed by the extremely talented Ryan Coogler (“Fruitvale Station” and “Creed”) and starring Chadwick Boseman as the titular hero, “Black Panther” is a sprawling and unique addition to Marvel cinematic cannon that is at times stunning. The Black Panther’s real name is T’Challa and he is made the King of Wakanda following his father’s death. Without spoiling too much, his reign is not at peace for long, as trouble soon erupts in the form of the villain Claw (Andy Serkis) and central baddie Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan).
While this movie is often deeply affecting, it is not without a number of flaws. Multiple early sequences are choppily assembled and one key character’s motivations are underwritten. And although Coogler is a master of character development and emotional power, his lack of experience filming action scenes is sometimes painfully noticeable.
Luckily, the movie overcomes these technical issues with the vision and power of its storytelling. The world that Coogler and company have managed to create is gorgeously rendered and, at times, totally immersive. The costumes are vibrant and dazzling. The tribal drum-driven soundtrack helps constantly propel the movie forward while further attributing to its African feel. Every decision by the filmmakers is carefully crafted to help highlight the aspects that make this movie unique.
The real stars, however, are the movie’s numerous, well developed characters. T’Challa is Coogler’s specialty: a black man struggling with his own past and the world of his present to reconcile with his identity. Working with this character inside a superhero template, Coogler is able to create a compelling counterpart in an antihero, Michael B. Jordan’s Killmonger, who was every bit as engaging, complex and convincing as the hero. Added to this already riveting tension between these two characters and their ideologies are several supporting roles that add cinematic depth. Thanks to stellar acting, especially from Lupita Nyong’o and Danai Gurira, there is scarcely a moment toward the latter half of this movie that lacks emotional weight.
“Black Panther” is like every superhero movie in that it is a story of hope. Yet unlike its contemporaries, it seeks to act as a definitive statement for a culture that is frequently mistreated. It grapples with big ideas and difficult problems but never loses its heroic optimism. Perhaps its most reverberant image is of a boy on a basketball court in the midst of the gritty Oakland inner city. He gazes into the sky at a Wakandan ship as everything in his life is taken away, and he’s left trapped in a resentful and vacuous life. In many ways, this movie was made for him.
Jared Skinner, Features Writer