Photo courtesy of pluggedin.com and Marvel Studio.
Chadwick Boseman stars as the titular hero in “Black Panther.”
While we’re only two months into 2018, the year’s most eagerly anticipated film has already arrived with Ryan Coogler’s “Black Panther,” which is a decidedly stunning addition in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Coogler directs the long-running franchise’s first black-led film with dazzling, groundbreaking results, ultimately becoming a true cause for celebration.
“Black Panther” actually begins fairly unexpectedly with a short scene set in 1992 Oakland, as the titular hero’s father, King T’Chaka (Atandwa Kani), visits his far-from-home brother, N’Jobu (Sterling K. Brown). Turns out N’Jobu has become a traitor to his own people, having assisted an outsider arms dealer, Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis), in retrieving some of the nation’s precious element. This opener sets in motion the events that propel the rest of the film’s narrative, which take place in the present day following the events of “Captain America: Civil War.”
Early on, in one of the film’s most impressive scenes, T’Challa is stripped of the Black Panther’s power (which is also extracted from vibranium) and forced to challenge his spot for the throne in a deathmatch. The scenery here is gorgeous, effectively defining Wakanda’s endlessly fascinating world in under ten minutes, and the luscious backdrop will only continue to awe as you’re allowed to better explore its beautiful landscapes by the time the movie comes to its satisfying conclusion.
Returning to the sequence at hand, we are presented with a handful of colorful and exquisitely dressed tribes who are watching atop a waterfall as T’Challa brawls with M’Baku (Winston Duke), a leader of an outcast tribe. Similarly striking is the hand-to-hand combat that’s highlighted here, which is distinctly visceral in comparison to the film’s other action-packed sequences, although it’s just as well-choreographed as the more superheroic, over-the-top scenes on display elsewhere.
Coogler proved he had an eye for sensational hand-to-hand combat with his work on “Creed,” and it’s refreshing to see that that aspect of his filmmaking transferred seamlessly to “Black Panther.” There is no doubt in my mind that this is among my favorite Marvel films in terms of spectacular action set-pieces, of which there are many here.
Perhaps my biggest complaint about Marvel movies of late is their one dimensional villains, but “Black Panther” dispels this by introducing its central antagonist as the carefully crafted Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan). From his introduction as a basic thief that somehow knows a little too much about vibranium, to his final standoff against T’Challa, Killmonger is a fascinating character to watch in every respect. But it’s important to note that Killmonger is but one among a wonderful cast of supporting characters, which is almost entirely made up of black actors, and also shines a spotlight on an unexpected number of significantly resilient women.
“Black Panther” perhaps only slips due to my own intensifying fatigue with comic book movies, and yet, it is still easily among the best films Marvel has produced. Every aspect of the film is precisely constructed, from the gorgeous costuming to the well-arranged and bombastic moments of action scattered throughout. Ryan Coogler is a master director in the making, and “Black Panther” may just be his most defining moment yet.
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