Set a week after the events of Captain America: Civil War, T'Challa (Chadwick Boseman) travels home to be crowned King of Wakanda. But before he can decide the future of his nation, an old enemy, Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis) joins forces with a mysterious stranger (Michael B. Jordan) to threaten Wakanda and challenge T'Challa's reign. In order to face this new threat, the young King will have to rely on all those he trusts...including another outsider.
Ryan Coogler, the director behind Fruitvale Station and Creed helms the 18th movie in the MCU and the first to feature a black superhero in the titular role. Much like Thor: Ragnanrok, there's a degree of separation to Black Panther, it's very much a stand alone movie. But it's also very important to the wider MCU because of the major role Wakanda will play in Avengers: Infinity War. Writer Joe Robert Cole described the story as a cross between The Godfather and the James Bond films, "a big operatic family drama centred around a world of international espionage. Despite posing as a third world country, Wakanda is the most advanced nation on Earth and it's all thanks to Vibranium. In the past, the country has hidden behind a veil of poverty in order to protect what's theirs. Now T'Challa must decide whether his reclusive nation should take a more active role in global politics. As Coogler put it; "What do the powerful owe those in need?"
As King, T'Challa has to balance the benefits of using their considerable resources to help those in need with the danger of revealing what they have to the world, including those who would want to take it for themselves. One such person is Erik Stevens (Michael B. Jordan). In one of his most intense performances to date, Jordan actually plays one of the MCU's most relatable relatable villains, up there with Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton) from Spider-Man: Homecoming. Stevens' cause is inherently good, but he has allowed his bitterness to twist him into an extremist, and a very extreme one at that!
In order to put his own stamp on an MCU movie, Coogler brought in collaborators from his previous projects. To make Wakanda they they have created a beautiful cohesion of African tradition and modern technology, incorporating elements of afrofuturism. Everything in this world is as beautiful as it is practical. The buildings of the capital city combine futuristic architecture with the design of African style huts. Vibrant colours denote the country's five tribes. Their outfits, based on traditional clothing - with a little inspiration from a few famous fashion designers - are designed to suit the role that the wearer plays. W'Kabi's (Daniel Kaluuya) warriors in the border tribe wear cloaks that hide a shield. And the red uniforms of the Dora Milaje, Wakanda's all female special forces that act as bodyguards to the king are inspired by the clothing worn by the Maasai people of Kenya and are designed to include armour.
Black Panther features an epic cast, all of whom deliver impeccable performances. Aiding T'Challa in his fight for Wakanda are Nakia (Lupita Nyong'o) a cunning spy who loves her country despite her feelings that it should be doing more to help those in need. Known as a "War Dog", Nakia carries out missions for Wakanda all over the globe, she is T'Challa's link to the future. Shuri (Letitia Wright), the youngest of T'Chaka's two children is the 'Q' to T'Challa's 007. Responsible for some incredible technology - and Black Panther's new suit - Shuri is potentially smarter than Tony Stark. Wright is a definite scene stealer, some of the best scenes feature hilarious sibling rivalry, I'm not sure who had more fun on set Wright or Andy Serkis.
Danai Gurira plays Okoye, a skilled warrior and leader of the Dora Milaje. Serving as the king's intelligence analyst she maybe one of his wisest advisors, she is also very proud of her role and can be rather stubborn. If Nakia is T'Challa's link to the future, his mother Ramonda (Angela Bassett) is his link to the past. According to Chadwick Boseman, Ramonda "is one of the advisors [T'Challa] would look to...for some of the answers of what his father might want or do."
Martin Freeman reprises his role of CIA Agent Everett Ross from Captain America: Civil War. This time he crosses paths with T'Challa thanks to Klaue and a little Vibranium theft in London. The leader of the Jabari tribe, Lord M'Baku (William Duke) is one of my favourite characters. He and his tribe don't always see eye to eye with the rest of Wakanda and M'Baku isn't afraid to show it, even to the king. M'Baku's alter-ego from the comics; "Man-Ape" wasn't used because Marvel felt there were "a lot of racial implications that don't sit well", however his tribe does still worship the gorilla god. Through flashbacks and visits to a spiritual plane known as the "Ancestral Place", we get to learn more about King T'Chaka. John Kani returns to the role after Civil War, and in a series of flashbacks T'Chaka is played by Kani's son Atandwa.
And then there's the rockstar himself, Ulysses Klaue. It's always great to see a performance from Serkis and his part is arguably one of the most fun. It's also nice to actually be seeing Andy when you're seeing him in a movie, no mo-cap suit here. After the events of Age of Ultron, Klaue has got himself a new arm, one that packs a lot more punch thanks to some Wakandan mining tech. Serkis has also dialled up the madness of the character to the point where both he and Klaue are just having a blast.
A lot of people to mention, I know. But this phenomenal cast are just one of many reasons to see Black Panther!
Unfortunately Black Panther does suffer from some predictable plot twists, from very early on you can start to see where the movie is going. A situation not helped by the release of the Infinity War trailers. It's a shame as well that given the stellar casting on Black Panther, two major players are under-utilised - Forest Whitaker and Daniel Kaluuya. Whitaker's Zuri gets much the same treatment as Saw Gerrera did in Rogue One, an important role that's key to the plot but gets very little screen time. Although Zuri does leave a lasting impact with the time he has. Kaluuya's role of W'Kabi could have done with some development, we understand his actions but a bit more padding would have made his decision a bit more natural and less of a sudden u-turn. I feel I'm nitpicking here, overall Black Panther is an exciting and intelligent thriller. One that I've seen twice already, and I can't wait to see it again!
In his attempts to do something different with this chapter of the MCU, Ryan Coogler has created the James Bond movie of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. An extraordinary tale of espionage and betrayal expertly intertwined with the type of incredible action sequences Marvel movies are known for - including a Bond style casino fight that leads to an exciting car chase through the city of Busan, South Korea. What makes Black Panther even better is its cultural relevance to today's society. Not only is it great to see a Hollywood blockbuster headed up by such a wonderfully talented and diverse cast, we can also learn a lot from these characters and their struggles!
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