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Review: The Marvelous Roar of Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther

It’s been ten years since the Marvel Cinematic Universe burst onto the scene with Iron Man and year after year the MCU has delivered one blockbuster after another with fans flocking in droves to see the latest installment.

As I type this, Black Panther is shattering box office records set by its predecessors. But do not for a minute be mistaken in thinking this is just another one franchise installment. because Black Panther is a movie unlike anything that came before it.

We are barely into 2018, but Ryan Coogler might have already delivered one of the best films of the year. Don’t be surprised when you see this film on many Top Ten lists come December.

Ryan Coogler steps into the big league director’s chair with a budget of $200 million dollars to make a superhero movie which focuses entirely on a black protagonist and a stellar black cast. Next month, Ava DuVernay’s A Wrinkle in Time is released, another first as she becomes the first African-American female to helm a $103 million dollar film. (What took you so long to get here, Hollywood, with brilliant African-American film directors helming films as illustrious as these? We can save that for another conversation.)

Black Panther’s release could not have come at a better time. It’s premiere is of significant importance to our political and cultural climate. Moreover, Ryan Coogler does a phenomenal job delivering everything that a superhero movie should be.

Coogler immerses the audience in the beauty that is Wakanda, a town somewhere between Tanzania and Ethiopia that’s not presented as third world or impoverished as we so often see whenever Africa is the setting. In fact, it’s the opposite. Wakanda is a hidden gem, sitting atop mound of Vibranium a precious metal which provides the city with unlimited energy. As a result, Wakanda’s technology is superior to anything yet seen in the MCU. Cue the superbly visceral world where most of the film takes place and makes its vibrancy such a delight to absorb.

T’Challa has just been anointed king of Wakanda after the death of his father, but there’s no time for coronation parades because rival Erik Killmonger arrives with a link to Wakanda and a claim to challenge the throne. Michael B. Jordan is an antagonist filled with rage and fury, but as we learn more about his backstory, the reasons for his anger will have you feeling a measure of sympathy. His performance is magnetically powerful, as a villain with heart. Coogler and co-writer Joe Robert Cole give the audience something we so rarely see, especially in the Marvel Universe — a deep and meaningful backstory that let’s us feel emotionally invested in the bad guy. Jordan’s Killmonger is the perfect opposite to Boseman’s T’Challa, the two are worthy and fascinating adversaries.

The cast of Black Panther is filled with richness. Every performance is fierce. Chadwick Boseman commands the screen with such regal demeanor. Daniel Kaluuya’s W’Kabi is fantastic. The women in the cast bring it. Lupita Nyong’o delivers yet another indelible performance, Letitia Wright’s Shuri is a scene stealer, and Danai Gurira’s Okoye is simply rapturous in every frame. In Black Panther, the women aren’t kidnapped, held ransom, or needing be rescued. In Wakanda, they’re spies, they’re commanders, and they fight their own battles. These are strong and powerful women in charge of their own agency. It’s Shuri who invented the train system of Wakanda and is the technical genius of the gadgets and weapons of the kingdom.

Photo: Matt Kennedy ©Marvel Studios 2018

The film is on such a superb level of visually excellence, you may find yourself salivating. We have the Oscar-nominated Rachel Morrison to thank for much of this splendor. If you’re one of the many filmlovers that admired  Morrison’s breathtaking cinematography in Mudbound, Black Panther will make you sit up straight and pay attention to her work as she gives Wakanda a feeling of grandeur saturated in the glorious colors of Africa while capturing a unique futuristic brilliance.

Ludwig Goransson’s rousing core holds us captivated as does Kendrick Lamar’s incredible soundtrack. Ruth Carter’s costume design and Hannah Beachler’s production design are thoroughly arresting as they capture the essence of Wakanda.

Coogler gives us spectacular action sequences including a thrilling car chase through South Korea with the women of Wakanda in the driver’s seat, and the fight scenes and battles are some of the best we’ve ever seen. The director of Fruitvale Station and Creed honors the Marvel legacy with the traditional Stan Lee cameo and post end credits teaser, and along the way he gives us a film that empowers and celebrates black excellence within the superhero universe. Black Panther is full of heart and action and brilliant from start to finish.

Photo: Matt Kennedy ©Marvel Studios 2018

Black Panther is an astonishing film, a standout among the MCU films, a standalone where its characters and storyline are more developed, with enough action and showdowns to leave us cheering as we go on this spectacular ride.

This is a much-needed milestone for Marvel. Fans will be satisfied and non-fans will be left in awe, but more importantly, young boys, young girls will be able to go to the movies and see a black cast portray heroes. It sends a powerful message to see Hollywood glass ceilings broken by movies like this. If the box-office numbers are any evidence, there has long been a hunger for films like Black Panther, and this is just the beginning.

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Black Panther is on general release