Director Ryan Coogler, cast deliver definitive superhero experience that transcends race in Black Panther
KEY CAST MEMBERS: Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Martin Freeman, Andy Serkis, Letitia Wright, Winston Duke, Forest Whitaker, John Kani, Sterling K. Brown, Florence Kasumba and Daniel Kaluuya
WRITER(S): Ryan Coogler, Joe Robert Cole (Screenplay); Stan Lee & Jack Kirby (based on the Marvel comic by)
DIRECTOR(S): Ryan Coogler
And the rest of the world believes Wakanda to be a third world nation, Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis) knows the truth. An arms dealer, Klaue wants to steal the rest of the vibranium – the fictional metal that is the rarest in the world in the Marvel Universe – on which Wakanda has built a marvelous empire. And since Klaue led a fatal attack against Wakanda many years ago during T’Chaka’s reign, T’Challa and many of his fellow Wakandans – including W’Kabi (Daniel Kaluuya), elder statesman Zuri (Forest Whitaker), T’Challa’s mother Ramonda (Angela Bassett), his technologically wiz kid sister Shuri (Letitia Wright), Wakandian spy/T’Challa’s former lover Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o) and Okoye, (Danai Gurira), the head of the Dora Miljae, Wakanda’s female military specialists who essentially serve as the king’s secret service.
But while T’Challa and company are concerning their selves with protecting Wakanda and taking on Klaue, there is another threat brewing that they don’t even know about that is much bigger and much deadlier – and this threat has a personal connection to T’Challa no one knows.
Then again, with a nickname like “Killmonger” (Michael B. Jordan), what else would you expect?
SO IS IT GOOD, BAD OR JUST AWFUL? Look, I don’t want to take a lot of time overly lauding Marvel Studios or its head Kevin Feige for making what The New York Times accurately called “a landmark event for Black America.” (Seriously – click the link; it sums up everything from why Blade and Hancock were superheroes whose blackness felt coincidental and how the forgotten Blankman and Meteor Man lack the combination of storytelling, poignance and for lack of a better word, coolness of Black Panther) has.
So, instead, what cane someone say about Black Panther without getting into its larger fit into a culture where a reality TV star – who has been married multiple times and delivered one of the most crass sentences ever heard about women before being caught calling countries like the fictional one at the center of the film … you know – is president and the alt-right’s attempted boycott of the movie had thousands of supporters? It’s simple, really.
Black Panther is a solid superhero film with a fictional country and fictional metal that address very real modern socio-political issues in a way comic book fans – and people who just consider them selves movie lovers – can enjoy.
With Fruitvale Station and Creed under his belt, co-writer/director Ryan Coogler has proven he knows how to handle both socially conscious scripts and action sequences – and never have the two mixed together on screen than they do in Black Panther. From his examination of the ideas of the responsibilities of the haves to the have nots to how vital women can be to any man’s success, Black Panther is a showcase of how to tell a story where multiple characters are critical to its overall vibe – all within the context of the Marvel Universe. Of course, Coogler’s kudos wouldn’t exist without a phenomenal acting job by all the parties involved.
Bozeman – in one might argue is his best on-screen performance yet – creates T’Challa from the ground up (yes, there are decades of comics to draw from, but there was no real-life person to research unlike his previous roles). Nothing feels like a parody of a man, let alone a superhero; T’Challa is man on a familiar mission but Bozeman makes his Wakandian warrior unique. This is why he plays extremely well against the former Johnny Storm Jordan in his second Marvel outing, as his Tupac-like Killmonger feels both menacing and yet, at the same time, justified in his destruction. You know what he’s doing is ultimately wrong – and T’Challa asserts as such – but you completely understand why, which makes his whole presence much more attention-grabbing. Serkis adds a ton of humor as Klaue in playing a more-traditional evil doer, but Jordan’s role is the one that takes over when it’s time.
The rest of the film’s supporting cast is just as strong in their work, the ladies especially. One could write an entire dissertation on how the performances of Wright, Gurira and Nyong’o are three best African-American female roles in a film not named Hidden Figures in terms of their reveals of strength, intelligence, humor and emotion (I would try but it would be a disservice as I am nowhere properly equipped to do so). That being said, Gurira makes sure all her Walking Dead-fans know she is as strong and lethal in Wakanda as she is Virginia as Michonne, Wright plays the Lisa Simpson-smart kid role better than anyone outside of Yeardley Smith herself and Nyong’o balances the two out perfectly.
Non-leading man wise, Martin Freeman gets a chance to shine as CIA Agent Everett Ross who’s growing appreciation of Wakanda serves as a subtle appreciation for learning someone’s culture. Meanwhile, Winston Duke – who’s character’s comic book origins were a source of concern for the makers of the film – brings a nice sense of levity to his M’Baku character while the Oscar®-nominated Kaluuya and Bassett make the most of their limited yet functional roles. If my about-as-subtle-as-a-grenade-thrown-through-your-front-door rant above didn’t tip you off before, it is impossible as an adult to not think about Black Panther in the larger context of the world today and the points it does make in a very non-preachy manner. As opposed to discussing that, I will simply let you know Black Panther entertains and then, when the opportunity is ripe, seizes the moment in delivering some of the most common sense, pro-humanity messages while at the same time making us think about why some African-Americans could all be Erik Killmonger given recent, ongoing atrocities even if they want to be T’Challa. But make no mistake: You DON’T have to be black to enjoy Black Panther nor do you have to listen to or even pay attention to the larger implications, but it certainly will add to your experience if you are or discuss it with a black friend.
In adding the first true black superhero to the Marvel Universe, Black Panther‘s cast and crew have proven that judging a character’s content is much better than just the color of their costume.