Cast: Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong'o, Danai Gurira, Martin Freeman, Daniel Kaluuya, Letitia Wright, Winston Duke, Sterling K. Brown, Angela Bassett, Forest Whitaker, Andy Serkis
Director: Ryan Coogler
Runtime: 134 minutes
Release: 13th Feburary 2018 (UK)/16th February 2018 (USA)
Jo S: Although the Black Panther has been around in comic book form for some time, there was a very little to go on in terms of what to expect going into the latest Marvel Cinematic Universe movie. We’d seen Chadwick Boseman in the title role - and the suit, briefly - in Captain America: Civil War, but other than this glimpse, the story to be told was as deeply obscured as Wakanda itself. Exploration of both reveales riches galore: braided tales of generations, the legacy of the father and the struggle of the son to carve out his own place in the world, supporting stories of scientific progress and its manipulation, the destruction wreaked by parasitic colonialism counterbalanced by the responsibility to help one’s fellow man, and ancient tradition set against the demands of a modern world… with armoured battle-rhino thrown in for good measure.
This movie is, above all else, majestic. Wakanda is credible as a huge technological marvel, hidden behind projections of rainforest and mountains, its people are costumed with astonishingly detailed finery, elegant as catwalk models yet sleek and terrifying in battle. Kendrick Lamar’s original soundtrack is blended seamlessly with Ludwig Göransson’s orchestral score: neither is overbearing although, for me; the trailer promising a mash-up of Gil Scott-Heron and Vince Staples’ 'Bagbak' might have suggested that music would play more of a character role in the film itself - but I guess I have a predilection to music with enough bass to cause arrhythmia so I may be biased.
Boseman is superb as T’Challa; grace and strength in quantity and enough gravitas to be believable as a king, combined with the sensitivity to play the boy prince who must make hard decisions whilst mourning great loss - and thank Bast they found someone strong enough to bear this role! The supporting cast are outstanding - huge credit to director Ryan Coogler for managing to choreograph such a perfect interplay between people each of whose work could comfortably qualify as a lead performance. Despite the male title character, this film is packed with forthright, intelligent, fearsome women, who frequently command the scene as a lead. Letitia Wright manages to play Shuri, T’Challa’s teenage sister, a technological genius who designs all of the country’s futuristic gizmos, as utterly cool when it must be almost impossible not to let that slip into infuriating precociousness, and Danai Gurira as Okoye, the head of the Dora Milaje (Wakanda’s military), plays a stoic leader, whose lethality and loyalty are embodied in a physique which is a joy to behold: more panther-like than the king and just as dangerous to anyone who would threaten Wakanda’s safety. Angela Bassett is elegant regality embodied and it's easy to accept T’Challa’s sudden loss of composure on meeting Lupita Nyong’o’s Nakia - stunningly beautiful and flowing with intelligent empathy, she is breathtaking.
Andy Serkis is wickedly unpleasant as arms dealer Ulysses Klaue, managing to be nasty enough to garner zero sympathy from anyone but without pushing it too far into pastiche, while Michael B Jordan and Winston Duke both play displaced would-be royals, each managing a skillful blend of surface calm with hints of fury beneath. For me, the one real weak spot in the movie was Martin Freeman. As a CIA officer, I didn't find him credible - he seemed too tame, too ineffectual - but perhaps he suffered merely by comparison to the constellation that surrounded him.
I can't round this up without mentioning that car chase scene - you will have seen glimpses in the trailer but they cannot do it justice - it's a triumph of inventiveness, taking what is essentially a movie cliché and twisting it into something thrillingly new and cracklingly pacy.
I find it really hard to find fault with this movie, but I will say that it didn't connect with me as completely as I'd hoped. It was indeed majestic throughout, a spectacle, and superbly entertaining, but I felt that I was viewing it from a slight emotional distance: it made me laugh a few times, but it didn't draw any tears or bring me to the edge of my seat. I think I was hoping to be seduced - but perhaps I just need to watch it again with the bass turned up to 11. 8/10