Ryan Coogler returns to make his third film after his stellar indie debut, Fruitvale Station followed by the crowd-loving Creed to make his first superhero film. One wondered whether he would be able to make a smooth shift considering what people expect from the genre. We have gotten too used to the films coming from the superhero genre of films. They follow a regular template. By making it approachable for even non-comic fans, the makers have succeeded in making Black Panther a riveting watch. When was the last time you were so emotionally invested in the superhero? Ryan Coogler has thankfully provided us with a Hero we can embrace and stay connected to.
Black Panther (2018) Review
The Wonder of Wakanda and the Power of Vibranium
Even before we register the names, it is the name of the place that arouses interest. Wakanda, considered a third-world country locked out from world trade but within it is a paradise on earth. Rich with resources, the people from different tribes live in harmony protecting themselves from evil forces with Vibranium, not available anywhere else on the planet but Wakanda. It has not just helped them build highly-advanced technology but enabled its warriors to become truly invincible. A Black Panther is chosen with the unanimous approval of all the tribal leaders and must definitely emerge victorious in case of any opposition. Following the ritual, a heart-shaped herb laced with Vibranium is made finer as a thicker solution to be drunk by the Black Panther to gain superhuman abilities. The Jabari tribe alone, for generations, stands apart in its decision to not follow the Black Panther rule.
When did superhero movies take Shakespeare to heart?
T’Challa is the son of T’Chaka and in Captain America: Civil War, we see him losing his father in an explosion. The people of Wakanda need to choose their new leader. On the other hand, a wrong done by his father, decades ago, returns to haunt him and the people of Wakanda. They have, for generations, shielded Wakanda in order to protect the Vibranium reserves from being discovered and misused. A South African black-arms dealer and smuggler Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis) who had infiltrated Wakanda in the past with a portion of Vibranium helps Erik “Killmonger” Stevens (Ryan Coogler regular Michael B. Jordan) towards his obsession to go to Wakanda seeking vengeance for his father’s death. Tribes take sides. There is moral ambiguity. You are as much rooted in Erik’s need for justice as T’Challa’s need for peace and righteousness. When did superhero movies take Shakespeare to heart? When the movie ends, you walk out of the theatre with a huge grin wanting to see it all over again.
Chadwick Boseman as T’Challa looks straight out of a protagonist imagined by the great Nigerian writer, Chinua Achebe. His eyes provide a calming assurance even as his body language suggests that T’Challa is a King who relished walking among men in the valley. The romantic subplot involving Nakia (a charming Lupita Nyong’o) from the River Tribe, working as an undercover spy works great too without coming as a hindrance to the story. The pick among the supporting cast is Letitia Wright, playing Shuri, the witty and intelligent 16-year-old sister of T’Challa, instrumental in creating advanced gadgets and innovating superior technology. She would even make Tony Stark look like an enthusiastic science pre-teen school kid. Daniel Kaluuya as W’Kabi is impressive, and Michael B. Jordan as Eric Stevens roars. What you absolutely love about these minor characters is even their story arcs have been paid a lot of attention to. The women shine through the film, more than the men. In this case, the women guards, protecting Black Panther remind one of Dahomey Amazons, a sub-Saharan band of warriors, who were dominantly existent till the 19th century. It is wonderful to see a dominant black cast in a superhero movie. How welcoming! The New Zealand rugby team is fondly called as the All-Blacks. Like the team, the people of Wakanda shine with both their brain and brawn.
The writing by Ryan Coogler and Joe Robert Cole, be the subtle jibes at the colonial and imperial mindset or the historically aware dialogues, is perfect. Cinematographer Rachel Morrison treats Black Panther with just the sense of grandeur that is pleasing to the eye showing the contrasts within Wakanda, the earthen appeal of its exterior and the vibrant tech-laden interior that does not pop out but draws you in. Marvel films, long known for staying faithful to temp music (rehashing old scores), stays away from its notoriety by roping in Swedish composer Ludwig Göransson. He creates the most compelling score we have listened to in a Marvel film. Adding to this smart move is making Kendrick Lamar as in charge of the soundtrack. When the film ends with the rousing ‘All the stars,’ you feel that the dazzling stars on the black night sky are the protective gaze of the Black Panther from above.
All hail the new King of Wakanda! The King among Superheroes!
Every generation needs a fictional hero it can identify itself with. The idea of the fictional hero when taken on an individual level speaks of the virtues the individual considers as valuable. They help in shaping your identity. For years, we have watched in mute surmise Batman to Superman, Spiderman to Ironman, taking on the bad guys and winning the good vs. evil battle. Nothing wrong in that, you may tend to wonder. But what it has culturally established is an unwanted inferiority complex for people from other regions and cultures. We need a fictional superhero who can make us comfortable in our skin, who can speak the language in the tongue we are familiar with, and above all, we need a fictional superhero who takes pride in his culture while respecting others equally. It is therefore not surprising that the TIME magazine featured Chadwick Boseman on the cover. He is the fictional hero of our times. By not being distant and unapproachable like the other superheroes, Black Panther emerges as a Hero who builds bridges across regions and cultures to unite the world at large. In that context, Black Panther may go down to be the most relevant superhero in the extended comic universe of DC and Marvel heroes.