BLACK PANTHER

“Black Panther” is the latest entry in the ever-expanding Marvel Cinematic Universe juggernaut.  In the isolated, technologically-advanced African country of Wakanda, T’Challa is preparing to follow in his late father’s footsteps as king.  When the precious metal called vibranium, Wakanda’s life-force, is stolen by a shady man who goes by the name Killmonger, working in conjunction with smuggler Ulysses Klaue, T’Challa jumps into action as the Black Panther, aided by his sister Shuri, ex-lover/spy Nakia, and Okoye of the all-female Dora Milaje.  With the help of American agent Everett Ross, the Black Panther and his team set out to fight Killmonger and prove their worth in leading the Wakandan kingdom.          

Director Ryan Coogler brings to the forefront a standalone story more mature than any other in the Marvel canon.  The screenplay, co-written by Coogler and Joe Robert Cole, touches on such themes as responsibility, betrayal, tribalism, and ultimately, manhood, with self-discovery as the most significant in T’Challa’s quest to become king of Wakanda.  This being the first Marvel movie to feature a predominantly African-American cast, the filmmakers maintain a clear focus on and respect for African identity, right down to the use of the Igbo and Xhosa languages.  Wakanda itself is established as a vibrant blend of the modern and the traditional, thanks in part to its use of vibranium, with the urban areas resembling a bustling town square while the more mountainous sections are where the ancient tribes reside.  Great emphasis is also placed on the all-female Dora Milaje soldiers as a major component to the film’s success, with T’Challa’s sister Shuri providing the necessary tools, and Nakia and Okoye of Wakanda’s Dora Milaje putting their combative skills to good use.  This is also exemplified in Ruth Carter’s costumes, with the city civilians wearing chic clothes, whereas the tribe members are all draped in traditional fabrics and the soldiers wear armor, all of which are brimming with color. The ritual duels in Wakanda are choreographed to resemble a cross between wrestling and gladiatorial fights.    

 

Chadwick Boseman makes for an ideal heroic lead as T’Challa/Black Panther, while Michael B. Jordan, the primary player in Coogler’s filmography, provides a blend of charisma, intensity, and sympathy in his antagonistic role of Killmonger.  It is Lupita Nyong’o, Letitia Wright, and Danai Guirra, however, who also provide the film’s backbone, as the lead female players, while also exemplifying three-dimensional sensitivity and depth.  Martin Freeman provides light touches of humor as Everett, while Andy Serkis sinks his teeth into the cold, calculated, and aptly-named Klaue.  This cast is further strengthened by supporting players Winston Duke, Sterling K. Brown, Daniel Kaluuya, Angela Bassett, and Forest Whitaker.  The musical accompaniment includes Ludwig Goransson’s score blending orchestral prowess with African tribal chants and hip-hop beats, along with original songs provided by acclaimed artist Kendrick Lamar.

 

“Black Panther” proves to be a Marvel movie of significant impact while also being a unique standalone entry in their hugely successful cinematic universe.  Wakanda forever! 

 

***1/2 “Ya-stars”