Wednesday, 14 February 2018

#17 BLACK PANTHER



Starring Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Martin Freeman, Daniel Kaluuya, Letitia Wright, Winston Duke, Angela Bassett, Forest Whitaker and Andy Serkis. Written by Ryan Coogler and Joe Robert Cole. Directed by Ryan Coogler. Budget $200 million. Running time 134 minutes. Certificate 12a.

And lo did it come to pass that the mighty Marvel Cinematic Universe, in the year of our lord 2018, did release their 18th feature film unto an expectant world and the said world promptly lost its collective shit, with reviewers seemingly hailing it as the second coming, earning the film an approval rating on Rotten Tomato of 98% and 87% on Metacritic. Verily it was declared that this film was the answer to all the world’s woes! And it was decided that in the future it will be seen to have, not only, lead to the utter abolishment of racism, white power abuse, and black oppression but also to have leveled the playing field for equal rights between the sexes and to have cured cancer. Damn, there’s nothing this film can’t do!

Black Panther heralds the arrival of the first head-lining black superhero, if you ignore Blade and Steel and joins a very short list of black superheroes that includes War Machine, Falcon, for the Marvel Universe, Cyborg for the DC and of course not forgetting Meteor Man and Spawn.

This is by far Marvel’s most grown up, sensible and strongly political movie, eschewing the shits and giggles of some of its recent fair, like Thor: Ragnarok and Guardians of the Galaxy 2 for a more measured and grown up adventure that attempts to deal with issues of race, colonialism, white oppression, sexism and racism, all the while remembering it’s a superhero movie so action, and lots of it, is a requisite requirement.

The story sees the crown prince of Wakanda T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) take up the mantle of Black Panther and assume the throne following the death of his father (as seen in (Captain America: Civil War). The world believes Wakanda to be another 3rd world African country, which couldn’t be further from the truth. Thanks to a huge, near limitless supply of a non-nuclear super mineral called Vibranium, buried deep beneath its land, Wakanda is a super technologically advanced nation who easily puts Tony Stark in the shade for advancements. A flying suit of armour? Pffff. The Wakanda’s have nano-tech, bullet proof, kinetic-energy absorbing, stealth armour that doesn’t even need to be put on! It just grows out of a necklace you wear around your neck. On top of that they’ve got these shoes that absorb all sound which they call ‘sneakers’. Anyway, the Wakandas hide their civilization inside a huge energy field and carry on regardless, oblivious to the world at large. However change is afoot and there are factions within the land who want to use their weapons and powers to free the oppressed black people of the world. Step forward Erik ‘Killmonger Stevens (Michael B. Jordan) a bitter and angry young man with a past that’s inextricably linked to T’Challa whom he challenges for the throne, leading to a battle royal between the two incredibly impressive young men. Killmonger wants to arm every oppressed black man in the world with vibranium powered superweapons and trigger a revolution that will see the tyranny of white rule eradicated for good, while T’Challa just wants to carry on quietly fixing things behind the scenes. And that’s the story in a nutshell, add to the mix there’s CIA agent Everett K. Ross (Martin Freeman) who’s trying to bring a one-armed South African black-market arms trader called Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis) to justice following his theft of a supply of Vibranium from the British Museum. Oh and there’s an almighty civil war about to tear Wakanda in two.

Can poor old T’Challa save the day or will it all end in tears?
This is a powerfully charged political statement from director and co-writer Ryan Coogler who co-wrote and directed the impressive 7thRocky film, Creed also starring Michael B. Jordan, while his first film Fruitvale Station won the 2013 Sundance Film Festival Audience Award. And it’s impressive that Marvel is willing to let these films be created by driven and creative individuals rather than the committees that seem to ruin the DC output.

As well as flying the flag for black power, Black Panther is also spearheading female empowerment and this film features a hell of a lot of female characters who aren’t just there to coo and talk about Black Panther, although that said they do consist of his mum (Angela Bassett), his sister (Letitia Wright) - the Wakanda equivalent of Tony Stark, an ex girlfriend, Nakia (Lupita Nyongo) who’s also a Wakanda super spy and Okaye (Danai Gurira) leader of the all-female Wakanda and body guard detail.

This film manages to convey its message without crowing or becoming too preachy, it touches on familiar Superhero tropes like father/son dynamics and yet still finds time to feel a part of the bigger Marvel Universe without the need for ‘special guest stars’. It looks stunning, the way that African visual influences are used is excellent and it never feels pretentious, and the the armoured rhinos were a nice, if silly touch.

It’s not perfect, but then so few films are, it’s a film that doesn’t feel suited for a younger audience, my 14 year-old son, for example wasn’t blown away by it and gave it a grudging 7/10, he said the it felt as if 'everyone was invincible' and therefore there no real danger or jeopardy, and younger might find the whole thing a tad light on some two fisted action. And it certainly won’t please everyone, it's a tad preachy at times and the audience we saw this with seemed equally divided with a 1/3 of the cinema sweeping out the moment the credits rolled, missing out on the two post credit stings, while the other 2/3rds stayed to the bitter end and whooped with glee.

Similarly, the ubiquitous CGI smackdown glimpsed in the trailer doesn’t quite work, some of the animation is clunky, the final showdown punch up is filmed in the dark and has both characters wearing black costumes, plus the camera never stops moving rendering much of the fight unwatchable. Plus it is extremely poe-faced and whereas I don’t want every Marvel film to be a laugh riot, a touch of levity here and there would have given me a more enjoyable ride.

An impressive addition to the Marvel Canon and one that feels like a nice starter for Avengers Infinity War which is due out later this year. 8/10


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