Friday 23 February 2018

Black Panther review: 'Those Marvel folks have done it again. They’re just showing off at this point'

4 stars

Chris Wasser

The hype is in full swing. If you tear away the packaging — the important stuff that tells you that Black Panther isn’t just another Marvel film — you’ll find that Black Panther is, well, just another Marvel film. There are idealistic heroes and unwavering villains. There are references to Iron Man and the lads. There is another bleedin’ Stan Lee cameo. But it is important.

The online buzz suggests Black Panther might save blockbusters, or make our brains explode. It won’t. But it is the first Marvel superhero offering to feature a predominantly black cast.

It was directed and co-written by Ryan Coogler, the African-American film-maker who gave us the triumphant Rocky spin-off, Creed. Kendrick Lamar produced the hip-hop-heavy soundtrack. Are you getting the picture? Black Panther may be just another Marvel film, but it also means more than any other Marvel film — and that’s the difference. Luckily, it’s pretty darn slick, too.

In case you haven’t been paying attention, Black Panther was first introduced in 2016’s Captain America: Civil War, the 13th instalment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). This first Black Panther movie (the 18th instalment — don’t ask) checks in straight afterwards, with T’Challa (a focused Chadwick Boseman) about to take up the throne in the fictional African nation of Wakanda, following his father’s death in Civil War (keep up down the back, there).

Right, so Wakanda is an isolated, technologically-advanced, ahem, marvel — the most powerful, most amazing nation on earth, and it is, quite literally, hidden behind a third-world exterior. T’Challa is granted the powers of the ‘Black Panther’ by drinking some ‘vibranium’ juice, or something (it crash-landed on earth many moons ago) and, sure listen, Ryan Coogler makes a lot more sense of Wakanda’s mesmerising history than I ever could. There is space magic, there is a hidden country in Africa, and the king is a superhero. Deal with it.

Long story short, an old enemy — a one-armed, um, arms dealer named Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis, having all the fun in the world) — ruins T’Challa’s inauguration buzz, and our brand new king is forced to don a nifty outfit and kick some arse. The real concern, however, is a young man named Erik (Michael B Jordan), Klaue’s sidekick, whose true identity shouldn’t be too difficult to work out. Forest Whitaker’s elderly sage, Zuri, will explain the rest.

There is a lot going on in here, but again, a confident Coogler takes a frighteningly tall tale and somehow manages to make a clean, thrilling and largely inventive sci-fi adventure out of it. There’s a little bitta Star Wars; a little bitta Bond. It also stands strong on its own, with Coogler just about keeping a lid on those pesky MCU distractions (another Avengers film is on the way, in case you didn’t know). Plus, Black Panther features a bumbling Martin Freeman as a bumbling CIA  agent. Bumbling Martin Freeman is never a bad thing.

True, it’s a little rough around the edges. The fight sequences are a tad disorganised, the sarky one-liners don’t always land and, as usual, it’s far too long. Still, it works. It looks the part. It’s never dull.

Much of that is down to the fact that Black Panther is less of a superhero flick and more of a rich and vibrant action/fantasy, with swords, spears and warrior rhinos. I can definitely get on board with warrior rhinos.

Boseman brings the necessary strength and charisma to Marvel’s premier African hero.

Jordan makes for a compelling challenger, whose big, bad plan-of-action isn’t all that bad, when you think about it (you’ll see what I mean). Lupita Nyong’o and Danai Gurira are terrific as the head of Wakanda’s all-female special forces unit. Oh, and Letitia Wright’s winning turn as Shuri — think of her as Black Panther’s Q — is a delight. They all work rather splendidly together. Did I mention the deadly soundtrack?

Yep, those Marvel folks have done it again. They’re just showing off, at this point.

Check out our other reviews of Black Panther from Ed Power and Paul Whitington:

Black Panther review - worthy, well made... but rather dull

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