Film review by Jason Day of Black Panther, based on the series of Marvel comics about a black superhero who lives in an isolated, technologically advanced African country. Starring Chadwick Boseman and Michael B. Jordan.
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T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) returns home to the isolated, technologically advanced African nation of Wakanda after the death of his father King T’Chaka (John Kani) in a terrorist bomb attack. He succeeds him, but outside forces threaten this peaceful country. Ulysses Klau (Andy Serkis) has stolen some of the precious metal that Wakanda has built its strength on, working with the mysterious Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) who wants to use the metal to make weapons to arm black people across the world, igniting a devastating race war.
Review, by Jason Day
It’s not exactly news to anyone reading this blog that, despite being a film critic of some 20 years experience, I don’t like and avoid reviewing comic book based or superhero related movies.
I’ve blogged previously about how I shy away from the Marvel or DC universes, having never been a fan of their comics and failing to grasp the all-consuming importance of the finer details of these films.
(I did, however, once have a two year subscription to The Beano…but I digress).
From my limited knowledge of this sub-genre of cinema, what I do know is that characters of black origin have been either completely neglected or reduced to supporting roles that facilitate the achievements of the (usually) male and (always) caucasian super hero, who defends the earth from umpteen types of evil.
Cinema has, over the past few years, cottoned on to the under representation of black film-making talent on both sides of the camera. This has resulted in a brace of stand out productions, from the harsh12 Years a Slave (2013) to the giddily romantic Moonlight (2016).
Generally, these have focused on working class or suddenly impoverished African Americans whipped up in the maelstrom of societal issues such as the slave trade, drug abuse and crime.
Here, in Black Panther, the narrative and stylistic conventions of the fantasy/comic movie sub genre allow the story tellers to transport us away from the problems endemic in the normal world and see black film characters in a wholly new light.
An electrifying media blitz and all round excellent reviews has this greeted this fantasy adventure – and deservedly so. It might very well be the finest Marvel film, or indeed comic based film, of all time.
Again, I’m not the most qualified reviewer to state such a thing, but I know my onions with cinema as a whole and it takes a lot for a comic based film to garner my interest, so loving this one as I did, it must have a lot going for it.
One thing I prejudged would pop up to annoy me is the ladling on of detail, nouns, pronouns, back-history and other ‘stuff’ to set the scene and tell us (rather than show us) where we are and how we got there. In other words, the detail that usually clogs up comic film adaptations, Harry Potter movies and such and such.
In Black Panther, we are given the most blissfully brief and succinct establishing scenes during the opening title credits, when place and people names and history defining moments are summed up in what seems the blink of an eye. Description is kept to a minimum and the visuals of a past moment in time are left to speak for themselves.
This approach might not please all fans of the original comics but, for this critic at least, it was a non-distancing approach that was most appreciated.
The other, is the racial politics. It would have been unimaginable and remiss for Black Panther, bearing the same name as the African-American political movement of the 1960’s and 1970’s, to avoid dealing with this topic, especially in light of the criticisms levelled at the present Trump administration on race relations.
Perhaps this says more about being a white man reviewing a film that portrays black people in a strong, self-reliant and positive light, but I expected to be smashed on the head from the start by a lumpen, moralistic hammer with obvious slams about the evils of prejudice inequality and white privilege.
But Black Panther is more intelligent than this and side-steps such cheap side-swipes to take give a more measured opinion on how best to solve societal inequality and racism. All out global conflict is to be avoided at all costs in favour of an (although admittedly hazily described) diplomatic resolution.
The actors are uniformly confident, witty and entertaining. Boseman makes for a starkly sexy, principled and upright hero and Letitia Wright as his sister in her Q/James Bond gadget lab is a spunkily independent and smart woman.
It’s also great to see back on the big screen the stunning Angela Bassett as the Queen Mother, but it’s a shame we don’t see more of her and she doesn’t have more to do. There is a visible older presence in this film, but in a movie that strikes many positive blows for equality, it is a shame only the young have preeminence.
Serkis makes for a wonderfully deranged, pantomime baddie but the better villain is Jordon, who conveys the psychological heartache of a man who was abandoned as a child an has spent a lifetime propelled by hatred of his family to use them to destroy the world. He’s come a long way since Creed (2015), what next for this increasingly great actor?
Letitia Wright, as Boseman’s spiky, science-geek sister, has a rolicking support turn, dashing about town in some sort of Batmobile and finding time to start romancing Martin Freeman.
Best of all though and the star find of this movie is the smashing Danai Gurira as the unimpeachably loyal female head of the female Royal guard. Physically robust and sassy, with a political mouth that allowed equal platform with her social betters, bald headed Gurira is the films finest turn, even when reduced to the ignominy of wearing the world’s worse and most uncomfortable weave during an undercover operation.
My only criticism is the final battle scene; joined by armoured rhinoceros, it looks like we have swanned off from this film set and back in time to that of The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (2005).Perhaps then, nonsense in a comic based film is never too far from the viewer.
For more, see the trailer on the official website.
Cast & credits
Director: Ryan Coogler. 134mins. Marvel/Walt Disney. (12a).
Producer: Kevin Feige.
Writers: Ryan Coogler, Joe Robert Cole,
Camera: Rachel Morrison.
Music: Ludwig Göransson.
Sets: Hannah Beachler.
Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Martin Freeman, Daniel Kaluuya, Letitia Wright, Winston Duke, Sterling K. Brown, Angela Bassett, Forest Whitaker, Andy Serkis.