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Notes On A Film: Black Panther

The fact that a Black Panther film exists is a great thing. The fact that it is a massive global success is a fantastic thing. The fact that it’s also a very good film is a wonderful thing. The Marvel Cinematic Universe continues to be the most reliable place to get enjoyable superheroic films, as Black Panther provides the action, the humour, the spectacle and the characters that make for exciting entertainment (without having to be immersed in the MCU or set up Avengers: Infinity War). Oh, and incidentally, it’s a predominantly black cast and made with a predominantly black crew and has a beautiful afro-futurism at its heart.

The majority of the film takes place just after events of 2016’s Captain America: Civil War, as T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) returns to Wakanda to be crowned king. But the film starts with a gorgeously realised CGI explanation of the history of Wakanda (because not everyone reads the comic books and knows these things) and a scene set in 1992 in Oakland, California that provides the basis for the nigh Shakespearean machinations that will provide the backstory for the main villain of the film, Erik ‘Killmonger’ Stevens (Michael B Jordan in charismatic form). The story sees Killmonger enacting revenge after the events of the Oakland-set scene, taking on Wakanda and wanting to change the world. Along the way, there are fantastic actions scenes in Wakanda and Korea, a brilliant ensemble cast of characters is introduced, and Wakanda is fully realised on screen and within the MCU, in a film that has a perfectly judged story for the characters and the setting.

It’s fantastic to see Wakanda on the big screen in all its beauty – I’ve been a big fan of Priest’s run on Black Panther since it came out, and I’ve always wondered if Wakanda could be captured off the page; I didn’t have to worry because it’s absolutely gorgeous here. The country and its capital are things of resplendent magnificence, and the exquisite splendour and serene elegance that is the ancestral plane are breath-taking. The production design for the whole film is spectacular, using aspects of various African countries to inspire and inform the costumes for Wakandan people.

Talking of the Wakandan people leads into the amazing cast in this film: Angela Bassett as Queen Mother Ramonda; Forest Whitaker as spiritual lead Zuri; Letitia Wright as T’Challa’s sister Shuri is a delight, playing a Q role to T’Challa’s Bond figure; Danai Gurira as Okoye (head of the Dora Milaje, the all-female royal guard – what a delight to see that part of Priest’s run on film) is fantastic; Lupita Nyong’o is perfect as Nakia, a Wakandan intelligence agent; Daniel Kaluuya as border tribe chief W’Kabi; Winston Duke as M’Baku gives cool to the leader of the Jabari tribe (and with a thankful move away from the comic book version of Man-Ape). The Tolkien White Guys (as a Reddit poster called them) of Andy Serkis as Ulysses Klaue (having a ball playing a non-mocap role) and Martin Freeman as Everett K Ross have a great little scene together, but they are the exception – it’s wonderful to see a black cast in a huge film, and I’m so happy that this film has done so well because of it.

Plaudits should go to the two central actors: Jordan is a powerhouse of charisma and righteous fury, all muscle and anger and intensity and attitude; perfectly judged to contrast this is Boseman as an internalised, noble, quiet figure, aware of the huge weight of his position as king and as the Black Panther, as the words of his father play heavy on him: ‘It’s hard for a good man to be king’. They are helped in this by the perfectly judged script by direct Ryan Coogler and Joe Robert Cole: the rational for Killmonger and his reasons for what he wants to do are completely plausible, and the two characters work together as a finely orchestrated pair in orbit around each other.

Just about everything about the film is great: the soundtrack is perfect, the action scenes are dynamic and vibrant, the film is part of the MCU without having to be laden down with it, and it’s really funny as well (‘I’m kidding; we’re vegetarians’; ‘Don’t scare me like that, coloniser’). There is depth to the world that has been created and I can’t wait for more Black Panther, either in his own films or appearances in other MCU films (Avengers: Infinity War can’t come soon enough). Coogler, in only his third film as director, has made a fabulous superhero action film that has something to say while it entertains and delights. As the film says: Wakanda Forever!

Rating: DAVE

[Explanation of my updated film rating system]

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