Featuring blissful worldbuilding and spellbinding characterization, Black Panther nobly assures its political significance.
The first prologue of Black Panther provides enough historical exposition with a dusty visual style made unique to Wakanda. This African kingdom has been enjoying its seclusion for thousands of years after being endowed with a meteorite—their sacred mountain made of Vibranium. "The most versatile metal in the world," as Ultron claims, is very versatile in this movie. Wakanda's Kimoyo beads can heal mortal wounds, disable engines, be a little walkie-talkie, and more.
United from five tribes, the Wakandans used vibranium to advance their way of life, surpassing the technological revolution of the warring world outside. From this premise, Black Panther pits the conservative against the progressive and evolves into one of the smartest and most intimate cinematic experiences in a genre that evokes hollow spectacles. This racially charged movie is the first superhero movie to feature a prominently black cast and set in Africa, but it never relies solely on politics to be clever. Black Panther hides many significant messages in its succinct, at times snappy, dialogue. For one, it's about the departure from grudge and mistakes of earlier generations. It's a key element that makes the movie so great in the current political landscape.
After one week of mourning King T'Chaka's death in Captain America: Civil War, Crown Prince T'Challa (Chadwick Boseman) returns to Wakanda for his coronation ceremony. A throne, however, doesn't equate a true king as the movie later demonstrates, and T'Challa must make the first important decision under the pressure of the Wakandan council and, more personally, his friend W'Kabi (Daniel Kaluuya) from the Border tribe. The new Black Panther plans to capture Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis, reprising his role from Avengers: Age of Ultron), who was responsible for a deadly attack on the Wakandan border almost thirty years ago, stealing more than just a "small" amount of Vibranium. Hefty responsibilities lie on T'Challa's shoulder; earning the Wakandan throne not only proves his duty to his ancestors but also lets him confront competitions and grow into a larger role. His mask cast off and Black Panther powers stripped away, this king is a young man trying to do right by his nation, his family, and himself.
Having proved his acting for both fiery soulfulness and stoic secrecy in historical biopics, Boseman brings T'Challa the glance and the aura of a person others can trust and rely on in desperate times. Gone is the focused loftiness from his encounters with Hawkeye in Civil War as Boseman humanizes and invigorates the badass Black Panther. But don't worry, the young king isn't less esteemed. The script and Boseman's timing give cool scenes where T'Challa listens to others' opinions and splendidly interrupts them at the right moment to assert his authority.
Director Ryan Coogler (Fruitvale Station, Creed) joins Joe Robert Cole (The People v. O. J. Simpson) to pen Black Panther's tautly inspiring script. Characters and their actions become more complex through Shakespearean family turbulence, action spectacle, and ideological animosity.
Coogler's scenic profundities resonate with our reality via their thematic relevance. The Oakland-born director puts the second prologue in his hometown as an indirect homage to the 1960s Black Panther Party. Every bit of social commentary contributes to a greater purpose that Coogler gradually reveals to be the main villain, Erik Killmonger (Coogler's muse Michael B. Jordan).
Killmonger represents the dark side of the African-American consciousness. To him, black brothers and sisters are subjects of unfairness and bigotry everywhere, and there's only one way to end that. Jordan channels a solid Malcolm X into a most compelling antagonist with the least residue of the post-modern sins-of-the-father trope—although the trope still shapes his ideal. Jordan's admirers might be familiar with some of his mannerisms, seen in Fruitvale Station and Creed, but he adds another layer of empathy to every pivotal scene. Be it when Killmonger is grief-stricken while alone, smug in front of Wakandan royalties, or tenacious when citing a heart-wrenching line about slavery.
What paints him as the MCU's most nuanced antagonist is that, although his twisted and radicalized opinions pose a profound challenge to T'Challa's character arc, Killmonger doesn't let any single portion of his past and personalities define him. His bloodline, ordeals, and worldview form an understandable whole.
The secondary villain, Klaue, makes for a better Cyborg than Justice League's real deal. With live-wire hostility and comedic bursts, Serkis steals a handful of scenes and never gives them back. However, if you seek the movie's actual comic relief, you'll find it in the Great Gorilla, M'Baku (Winston Duke). The leader of a snubbed tribe, M'Baku forms an interesting dynamic, in his modest screen time, with T'Challa. Duke has the exact comic appeal needed by people who don't like Korg in Thor: Ragnarok.
The women of Wakanda stand out, sometimes more than T'Challa, as no praise is enough for them, individually and collectively. T'Challa's younger sister Shuri (Letitia Wright, Urban Hymn) is a tech genius in charge of Wakanda's lab, where Everett K. Ross (Martin Freeman) witnesses her technological wonders. Lovable and presumptuous, Wright portrays a realistic 16-year-old with eagerness and Westernized shenanigans. General Okoye (Danai Gurira, Walking Dead) replaces Ayo (Florence Kasumba) as T'Challa's protector. She leads Wakanda's all-women royal defender—the Dora Milaje—and faces the lacerating responsibility for the throne and her country in a great arc. Balancing Okoye's red is the green of Nakia (Lupita Nyong'o, Queen of Katwe), T'Challa's love interest. She's the most underrated character because her disposition leans more on autonomy and determination than Okoye's searing intensity or Shuri's happy-go-lucky attitude.
You might notice that I mention these three women in their relations to T'Challa, but each of them honorably transcends beyond obligations to be a person of her own will, ambition, and loyalty to Wakanda. That makes the Queen Mother (Angela Bassett) the most underwritten female character because she only has a little more than maternal love for her son. The question about one's duty to the nation and their people lurks behind the mind of almost every supporting characters, not just T'Challa. This ramification is so well-developed that the third act explodes into a clash of ideas, not lifeless violence.
Music accompanies characters like a part of the movie's genetic code. Award-winning rapper Kendrick Lamar's collaborations with other black artists, notably "King's Dead," "Pray for Me," and "All The Stars," ease their ways into dialogue-free scenes to connect plot tissues. Beside original songs, the breath-taking score of Ludwig Göransson (Creed) is not to be missed. The composer did thorough research in African countries to find the suitable instruments, and no one can forget the coronation scene where Wakandans echo T'Challa's name. The pulsing tempos of repercussion and chanting magnificently exalt this euphoric celebration of Africa's cultural diversity.
Like Coogler promised, there are 007 moments, especially the "gear showcase" scene—Shuri is a cute Q—and the Busan casino scene. There, a brilliantly staged fight leads to a bonkers car chase, which showcases the action skills of T'Challa, Shuri, and Okoye. Some scenes are for showing off, with CGI destruction, like Shuri says, but Coogler's palatable sense of clarity and action direction emphasizes on impact and expression, making Black Panther distinguished among superhero movies. Ritualistic duels are neatly shot in the style of classic kung-fu films—mid-shots and long takes—so that viewers can follow the action. Their choreography takes inspiration from capoeira, an Afro-Brazilian martial art of close-quarter combat with influences from dance and acrobatics.
Mudbound's Oscar-nominated Rachel Morrison gives Black Panther impressive exteriors and interiors. Her extensive practical lighting compliments the cast's perfect complexion while diverting our eyes from the lazy backdrop and several weightless CGI action sequences. I don't know why but MCU's VFX is getting worse with recent films (check again for the background of Ragnarok's gladiator scenes).
It's a crime not to acknowledge Black Panther's cultural facets. Worldbuilding details interweave themselves into plot progression with a rhythmic precision so attractive and satisfying. Tidbits about the daily life and various celebrations never bog down the story. Instead, they reinforce the overarching themes and provide great characters with credible environments. Snippets of agrarian activities are juxtaposed with character moments that explore dynamics between T'Challa and his closest allies.
In Ruth E. Carter's wardrobe, tribal attire is fantastic, even for background characters, creating a sense of deep-rooted identity. Expressionistic clothing is a treat with assorted accessories like body scars, lip plates, and hair extensions made from clay. The modernized Shuri gets special treatment with changing costumes and hairstyles from scene to scene.
Past and present meet in Wakanda, thanks to Afro-futurism and production designer Hannah Beachler (Moonlight). Skyscrapers sit next to rondavel huts; street trolleys run under high-speed magnetized trains. The adherence to traditional values is apparent in many aspects, including a key point of Killmonger's antagonism. In many ways, this is a more detailed look at a hidden, uninterrupted utopia, with practical infrastructure, than Wonder Woman's Themyscira. This self-sustained land represents the black people if neither colonization nor culturally commercialized mishmashes invaded them.
The ancestral plane, where only the king can visit in his breathing life, looks mythically exotic in its violet-blue skylight and eerie landscape. Coogler puts a nice spin on that realm by adding the kings' mental states. Shapes and colors are inviting, from the vividly joyous coronation to a garden of heart-shaped herb run by the tormented Zuri (Forest Whitaker) and the underground railroad (what a dope reference!) surrounded by the sapphire tinge of Vibranium mines. The glowing mark inside the Wakandans' mouths is a visible sign that proudly traces the black legacy to its rich culture.
After his debut in Civil War, T'Challa appears here as a man burdened with doubts and character flaws. He matures throughout the story as supporting characters mold him into a better man and a better king. Featuring blissful worldbuilding, spellbinding characterization, and the best MCU villain to date, Black Panther nobly assures its political significance. Racial issues aren't ornaments for the narrative; it's an integral part that is neither forced nor conceited. That sophistication is the fresh air to shop-worn superhero formulas we are growing bored with.
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