In a throne room confrontation, King T’Challa a.k.a Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) is called out by Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) for Wakanda’s isolationist ideology. T’Challa speaks of protecting his people from the outside world and ensuring that Vibranium - the most powerful element in the universe - doesn’t fall into the hands of the wrong people. Killmonger poses the question that if Africa is the cradle of civilisation, then aren’t there two billion black people around the world who have suffered as a result of colonisation, slavery and oppression because of his kingdom’s failure to intervene? Just when superhero fatigue appeared to have audiences at their most depleted waiting for the latest in the production line of Marvel movies, director Ryan Cooler (“Fruitvale Station” and “Creed”) and a cast loaded with sensational performers of colour - Boseman, Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Guria, Daniel Kaluuya, Letitia Wright and Winston Duke to name a few - delivers a comic book movie with claws.
**minor spoilers included **
After the assassination of King T’Chaka in Vienna, T’Challa (Boseman) inherits the mantle of King as well as Panther. When T’Challa returns home to Wakanda, he passes the ceremonial test to maintain his mantle as ruler and defender of his homeland before heading on a stealth mission to recover a stolen Wakandan relic and apprehend an enemy of the people, Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis). The mission unearths his fiercest challenger for the throne, Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan); and stirs discontent in Wakandan society ready to confront the world.
Boseman’s T’Challa carries through his regal presence from “Captain America: Civil War.” Boseman’s aura is one of a quiet power where his posture and his very walk has a predatory feline gate. An invisible suit helps with a certain level of swagger. T’Challa is told by his father T’Chaka in a vision that good men never make good kings and Coogler and co-writer Joe Robert Cole’s script frames T’Challa's view of the world through his ability to acknowledge the people around him. Boseman’s presence is the guide orbit of film, the characters interacting with him are there to be appreciated.
Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o) introduces the audience to the Wakanda network of spies, dispatched throughout Africa and beyond as instruments of justice. Nakia’s history with T’Challa muddles his mind much in the same way that seeing Lupita on the red carpet does to us normal people. Danai Guria’s Okoye is all kinds of beautiful and badass. She’s got a ferocious loyalty and it’s no secret that despite her super-powered and super-suited commander in chief, she’s by far Wakanda’s best warrior. Her partner W’Kabi (Daniel Kaluuya) is not intimidated by a powerful woman. He is also not shy to share his opinion with his King that his position on the front line of the veil that conceals Wakanda from the world; it’s time for a coming out party of sorts.
Letitia Wright’s Shuri, the “Q” to her brother T’Challa’s James Bond, is one of the film’s highlights. In the ageing population of Marvel super geniuses (Stark and Banner specifically) this young woman is an even more diverse injection of youth into the film and the extended MCU. The internet thirst is real for the burly Winston Duke. Duke plays the formidable M’Baku and member of the Jabari Tribe that begrudgingly agrees to the country’s line. Sterling K. Brown is terrific in his brief performance as N’Jobu. Brown is able to access and convey a rage thatbarely needs words. This is Brown’s time and for the limited screen time he’s extremely memorable. I loved seeing Andy Serkis off the leash as Ulysses Klaue. It’s a refreshing, larger than life Bond style villain to compliment Coogler and Joe Robert Cole’s homage to the form. Fans of the “The Lord of the Rings” seeing Martin Freeman’s Everett K. Ross interrogate him is what “Heat” were to fans of “The Godfather Part 2.”
On a collision course shaping to knock the Wakandan universe off axis is the Jordan’s ferocious and vengeful Killmonger.
It’s been said in some readings of the film (https://www.teenvogue.com/story/black-panther-duality-martin-luther-king-jr-malcolm-x & http://birthmoviesdeath.com/2018/02/06/black-panther-review-marvels-most-ambitious-visionary-film-ever ) that the ideologies of American Civil Rights heroes are in the very DNA of these characters.
T’Challa’s quest for consensus and partnership in the face of great conflict resembles that of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, while Killmonger's militaristic mobilisation of weaponry to reassert the power of the disenfranchised resembles Malcolm X. Boseman had established the foundations of Boseman’s T’Challa. Killmonger orphaned after his father N’Jobu (Sterling K. Brown) was killed to stop his plans to arm radical Afro-American gangs in the oppressed South Central Los Angeles, around the time of the riots. Isolation and protection of Wakanda was to be maintained. Killmonger adopts the ethos of his “coloniser” adopted home America world view; obliterating his enemies and figuratively and literally scarring himself.
I had a strange experience of “Black Panther,” listening to the Kendrick Lamar companion soundtrack prior to viewing provided a more expansive platform to begin viewing the character and the portrayal. In the song “Paramedic!” By SOB X RBE the opening lines of the song are as follows:
“I Am Killmonger.” Kendrick decrees.
The hook emerges; “no one’s perfect, but no one’s worthless, but we ain’t deserving of everything heaven and earth is where it is.”
Kendrick proclaims; “this is my home.”
Jordan’s Killmonger in concept and execution is most certainly the most interesting Marvel villain to date.
Ryan Coogler's Wakanda is a technological wonderland and is being heralded as an “afro-futurist vision.” This imagined space becomes a nexus for the collective of creatives to imagine a vision of Africa without colonisation and that imagine is rich with splashes of culture and harnesses the near unlimited natural resources of the continent. Coogler has a flair for making the camera flow through spaces with the energy of the scene. The signature scene is the action sequence in a South Korean gambling den where the camera flies through the air like a spear to arc over and into multi-level action. For the entire spectacle, Coogler appreciates deft motion. The final physical showdown between T’Challa and Killmonger suffers some of that CGI incomprehensibility. The difference though, as these two specimens clash in near identical suits, there’s a heightened sense that these are different reflections of the same expression.
“Black Panther” is an avalanche, a nexus for underrepresented voices to be thrust into the throne. The superhero genre grew up a decade ago, with the arrival of “Iron Man” and “The Dark Knight”; and since then it’s rarely elevated out of an escapist arrested development. “Black Panther” shows that when the genre has something to say, on the biggest platform the echo reverberates. In a recent interview with Edith Bowman on the Soundtracking podcast Ryan Coogler talked about Bill Conti’s brilliant and powerful score to “Rocky.” He described that its power, much like that of the story of Adonis Johnson/Creed, had the power to break your heart if approached with the delicacy of tender hands on piano keys. However, when you blast it with a fanfare of trumpets it elevates to the level of mythical. “Black Panther” has mythical power, rooted in the deeply real and uncomfortable truths.
P.S: Be warned; at the conclusion of “Black Panther” there are two cut scenes. After the first, heed the advice of Jordan Peele’s Oscar nominated debut and “Get Out.”
Director: Ryan Coogler
Written by: Ryan Coogler and Joe Robert Cole
Chadwick Boseman - T’Challa / Black Panther
Michael B. Jordan - Erik Killmonger
Lupita Nyong’o - Nakia
Danai Guria - Okoye
Martin Freeman - Everett K. Ross
Daniel Kaluuya - W’Kabi
Letitia Wright - Shuri
Winston Duke - M’Baku
Sterling K. Brown - N’Jobu
Angela Bassett - Ramonda
Forest Whitaker - Zuri
Andy Serkis - Ulysses Klaue
Florence Kasumba - Ayo
John Kani - T’Chaka
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