Marvel Studios are on a roll, the studio behind the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) seemingly unable to put a foot wrong.
However, an “old Hollywood” myth still prevailed. Could a summer blockbuster with a predominately “Black” or “Female” led film succeed?
With DC finally lightening up and providing us with the excellent “Wonder Woman” answering the latter, it was up to this film to prove the former.
Not that anyone should have been in any doubt but with a $1.3 billion box office answer, that myth can safely be consigned to history.
“Black Panther” aka “T’Challa” (Chadwick Boseman) has appeared briefly in “The Avengers” before and gets his first a solo outing. Following the usual origin story arc, the film opens with a somewhat confusing scene which is expanded and retains significance later on.
T’Challa is about to be installed as the new king of the fictional county of “Wakanda” located in Africa. The kingdom has hidden technology not shared with the rest of the world, following the discovery of the valuable “Vibranium” (Movie McGuffin, a plot device to drive story forward).
The succession follows the death of his father, blown up at the UN in one of the previous Avenger movies, indicating how intricately this movie universe is planned.
Following a ritual combat challenge, if successful the king also becomes the “Black Panther”. This honour not only brings a natty stylish suit, but also superpowers and an ability to bounce off bullets, which will come in handy.
T’Challa also has plenty of support from his feisty tech nerd sister “Shuri” (Florence Kasumba), stoic mother “Ramonda” (Angela Bassett), ex-flame “Nakia” (Lupita Nyong’o), CIA agent “Ross” (Martin Freeman), loyal bodyguard “Okoye” (Danai Gurira) and village elder “Zuri” (Forest Whitaker).
That support will be needed as threats arise from all directions, including an unexpected source closer to home. The clear and present danger is South African mercenary “Ulysses Klau” (Andy Serkis) now certainly not ‘armless, with his previous disability now considered a strength.
As with most comic book superhero films, despite all the technology and superpowers, the two leads including Michael B. Jordan, will still end up with a man o’ man fist fight. When people are seemingly indestructible this becomes a zero sum game but no matter, this is a general complaint not leveled at this movie.
Marvel films stand out against the DC Universe (Superman, Batman etc) because of good stories, character development and an ability to puncture any rising pomposity with humour. Seasoned director & co-writer Ryan Coogler has also managed to weave in a subtle yet worthwhile message without being overtly political or preachy.
The story is surprisingly complex and takes different turns to the expected, admittedly ending up with the usual comic book obligatory fight scene. Effects are as you expect top-notch, although the armour plated Rhino’s are arguably a step too far. Conjuring up images of the “Golden Compass” or “John Carter”, which from a movie point of view is not a good look.
Boseman and Jordan absolutely look the part, Serkis does his villainous turn with some relish. The film also benefits from solid performances from the female cast, notably Gurira and wise cracking sassy Kasumba who both get decent roles.
Solid comic entertainment and simultaneously proving whatever ethnicity or gender headlines a film, if it’s any good audiences will turn up.
Who would have thought….