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Three Views: Black Panther

February 16, 2018

Black Panther Review By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

Picking up after the events of Captain America: Civil War, when Prince T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) witnessed his father King T’Chaka (John Kani) get killed in an explosion in Vienna, forcing him to assume the role of Black Panther, Black Panther offers a standalone adventure for the title superhero that injects fresh blood into the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

The much hyped release is the studio’s first film helmed by a black director, Creed and Fruitvale Station filmmaker Ryan Coogler, and also their first film with a predominantly black cast.  Propped up by the excellent cast and solid direction, Black Panther serves as both a celebration of African culture, and also a solid action movie that feels a little grittier than the other films in the MCU.

Near the beginning of the film, we get a visually arresting prologue that takes us through the history of Wakanda, an isolated African nation built on a rich supply of the powerful metal vibranium, which has allowed them to become highly technologically advanced.  This is where much of the film takes place.  T’Challa returns to his birth place of Wakanda to assume the role of king, in a ritualistic ceremony lorded over by the elder Zuri (Forest Whitaker) where he is challenged for his spot on the throne.

When Wakanda is threatened by a powerful adversary, King T’Challa must don the suit and claws of the Black Panther, and work alongside the powerful warrior women of the Dora Milaje led by General Okoye (Danai Gurira), to protect their nation.  The villain is Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan), a former black-ops soldier gone rogue who teams up with South African arms dealer Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis) to steal a piece of vibranium from a British museum’s display of African artifacts, and plans to take over Wakanda and have the nation rule the world.

Killmonger is a tortured figure who has taken identity politics to their natural limits, and his extremist ideologies about race have led him down a dark path, wanting to use the powerful weapons of Wakanda to start an uprising and get revenge on Western civilization for current and past oppressions against his people.  The fact that the villain is given such depth is a big part of what makes Black Panther work as well as it does, and Killmonger is fascinatingly portrayed as a broken young man who sees his natural place as being a king, but is too damaged to know what this really means.​  T’Challa and Killmonger are like mirror images of each other, and this is one of the most compelling aspects of the film.

Wakanda is an interesting place in that the lack of outside interference has allowed its citizens to flourish on their own.  Because the nation was never colonized, it was allowed to prosper and function entirely of its own accord, and they have closed themselves off from the rest of the world, lest their vast natural resources be taken from them.  They don’t want to bring in any immigrants, and are reluctant to use their highly advanced technology to help the rest of the world, for fear that it will be stolen from them and their carefully maintained order will be disrupted.  But Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o), a spy and close ally of T’Challa, sees the nation as having a responsibility to share their resources and help those in need, and wants them to change their isolationist policies.

The appeal of Black Panther lies in the fact that it offers something a bit different and more grounded than the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, with car chases and hand to hand combat that could have come out of a James Bond movie.  There’s even a fun sequence where T’Challa’s tech genius sister Shuri (Letitia Wright) shows all of the new gadgets that she has invented for him.  Ryan Coogler directs the film with confidence, showing a strong ability to deliver memorable set-pieces, a talent that was also on display in the fight sequences of his Rocky spinoff Creed.  An impressively choreographed fight in a casino that is made to look like a single take is an especially cool example of his directing prowess, and it’s followed by a tense high speed chase through the streets of Busan.

As we already know from his excellent portrayals of Jackie Robinson in 42 and James Brown in Get On Up, Chadwick Boseman is a magnetic performer.  The actor ably carries much of Black Panther on his shoulders, and he ensures that T’Challa is a hero worth rooting for, while also portraying him with a sense of vulnerability and humanity that makes him relatable.  Michael B. Jordan does standout work as the film’s main villain, brilliantly portraying the tragic underpinnings and conflicted motivations of his character in a way that even evokes moments of sympathy, and continuing to impress after his previous collaborations with Ryan Coogler in Creed and Fruitvale Station.

The costumes and production design offer a colourful feast for the eyes, and Rachel Morrison’s vibrant cinematography makes it all pop.  The film does lose some of its steam at points, and there are moments when we start to feel the effects of the 135 minute running time.  I found my attention drifting at times, and the film can get bogged down by spending a little too much time with scenes in the council chamber discussing Wakandan politics.  But slight bumps aside, Black Panther is still easily worth seeing, and has plenty of elements to like and even admire about it.  It’s well acted, solidly directed, has some cool action sequences, and a villain who is far more interesting than the typical bad guy.

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Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o), T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) and Okoye (Danai Gurira) in Black Panther

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Black Panther Review By Erin Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

At the beginning of Black Panther, T’Challa is dealing with his father’s death and being handed down the keys to the kingdom, having to prove his worth for the throne by fighting any challenger before being crowned king.  As King of Wakanda, T’Challa becomes in charge of the most powerful nation in the world, that the rest of the world doesn’t know about.  Their wealth and technology – which is far more advanced than anything else on Earth – comes from an ancient meteorite crash that gave them riches of Vibranium, (same element Captain America’s shield is made of), which has extreme properties of strength and use for medical and technological marvels.

The character of the Black Panther/T’Challa (played by Chadwick Boseman) was first introduced in Captain America: Civil War, a film I would highly recommend checking out before this one if you get a chance, as a lot of what T’Challa is dealing with comes directly from the events of that film.  This time around in his standalone film, Black Panther plays as both an origin story, and also a sequel to previous events.

The majority of the film takes place within Wakanda and with the Wakandan’s own people, however influences from the outside world threaten to reveal them and/or send the planet into chaos.  A few outside people do know of the wealth of Vibranium from Wakanda and want it for themselves, including Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis), and Eric Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) who also believes he should have a claim to the Wakandan throne himself.  In addition, CIA agent Everett K. Ross (Martin Freeman) also gets mixed up in the fight.

Black Panther is a visually arresting film, from the set design, to the costumes.  The world of Wakanda is an immersive mix of natural formations and technology, and the blend is both unique and reminiscent of the blend of metal and rock in Asgaard.  In a way, Black Panther reminded me a bit of Thor, if to be compared to another of the Marvel outings, in that it becomes very much a family and ‘power for the throne’ based fight within its own nation.

The characters are what make the film so interesting though.  Both within Wakanda and outside of it, we get many different viewpoints on what a nation should do with its resources and place in the world.  T’Challa as a young king is often trying to figure out where he falls on all this, listening often to his sister Shuri (Letitia Wright) who is quite dismissive of the rest of the world, his friend Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o) who believes Wakanda with its resources has a responsibility to become more involved in humanitarian efforts, and his father’s old confidant Zuri (Forest Whitaker) who knows more about Klaue than he initially reveals.  Meanwhile, other tribes within Wakanda have different views and lust for power as well, including the more traditional M’Baku (Winston Duke).

From the outside world, we get a complete outsider’s view through Everett K. Ross’ eyes, and also the outside view of Wakanda and the outside world that Killmonger brings in with him.  Throughout a film that is very action-set-piece driven – and often hand-to-hand combat – topics on how we should use the past to treat the future, and what right that gives us to make decisions, is an interesting one that we hear from more than one side on.  And in Killmonger we get an antagonist who we can easily believe believes he is doing what needs to be done, which provides an interesting look at how people like T’Challa can oppose something that may have been sparked from the idea of an ideal or righting past wrongs, but has been taken too far.

Overall, Black Panther is another solid outing in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, far above films like Ultron.  For the music, visuals, and scope of the film, it is well-worth checking out in a theatre, providing an entertaining time that delivers on all fronts of story, characters, and action.

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Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) and T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) in Black Panther

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Black Panther Review By Tony Corrado

★★★★ (out of 4)

The latest Marvel film Black Panther has T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) taking the throne of the African country Wakanda upon the death of his father T’Chaka (John Kani) in an explosion. Wakanda is a federation of five tribes. The Jabari tribe choose to live traditionally while the other four tribes have used the vast reserves of vibranium from a huge ancient meteorite to develop the world’s most technologically advanced nation cloaked to appear to the outside world as just another backward African country. Vibranium is not only a super strong metal but also a near infinite energy source.

Women play a strong role in Wakanda, including T’Challa’s mother Ramonda (Angela Bassett), his kid sister Shuri (Letitia Wright) – the best Black technology genius since Barney (Greg Morris, and his son in the remake) a half century back in Mission: Impossible, and the fierce palace guards led by General Okoye (Danae Gurira). The returning expat spy Nakia (Lukita Nyong’o) is obviously a very close friend. Before taking the throne, T’Challa must defeat any challenger in hand-to-hand fighting, overseen by the court elder Zuri (Forest Whitaker). The Jabari chief M’Baku (Winston Duke) takes the challenge.

Based on a flashback early in the film, another expat with a grudge against the T’Chaka dynasty has grown up in the west as a special ops commando aptly named Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan), whose upper body is covered with scars marking his kills. He has teamed up with the South African thug Klaue (Andy Serkis), whose left arm hacked off in a previous comic had been replaced with an awesome alien weapon. They hope to take control of Wakanda and change its isolationist policy into worldwide Black domination.

As a Disney property, Marvel has followed other Disney-owned studios in recent films like Moana and Coco by using indigenous talent in appreciation rather than appropriation of their cultures, a welcome step away from earlier stereotypes, e.g. Pocahontas. The brilliant young African American director Ryan Coogler has also used women extensively behind the camera, including his usual cinematographer Rachel Morrison and African American production and costume designers Hannah Beachler and Ruth E. Carter respectively, who sampled the best of various African styles in their designs.

As a person with a good ear for dialects, I was particularly impressed with how well nearly every actor spoke with an accent that was not their own, from Martin Freeman as an earnest but relatively clueless CIA agent, to the Afrikaans accent of Andy Serkis and the Wakanda accent based on native speakers of the southern African click (!) language !Khosa. To accompany the dialogue and action sounds, the soundtrack assembled by Kendrick Lamar stands alone as a fine collection of urban music.

Black Panther has been widely anticipated as a celebration of people of African heritage taking major roles in the world of superheroes. With a more plausible story requiring real acting from the fine cast, and reliance on action scenes with real fighting rather than comic book fantasy, it is a refreshing change from some of the other Avenger films, not to be missed.

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Consensus:​ Boasting solid direction by Ryan Coogler, exciting action sequences, and an excellent cast led by Chadwick Boseman and Michael B. Jordan who bring depth to both the hero and villain, Black Panther is an entertaining and very well made action movie that injects fresh blood into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. ★★★½ (out of 4)

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