King T’Challa, the new Black Panther, is charged with defending his secretive, technologically advanced kingdom from outsiders – but soon faces challenges to his reign.
The news that Marvel would finally grant expectant comic buffs a long overdue Black Panther movie, directed by none other than Creed's Ryan Coogler, has been greeted with the kind of expectation, pomp and ceremony typically reserved for… well, royalty.
Which is fitting because Black Panther tells the story of T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman), the son of King T’Chaka (John Kani), who ascends to the throne of the kingdom of Wakanda, taking over the responsibility of protecting (and hiding) the wealthy, technologically advanced African nation, from the sticky paws of the Western world.
The plot bridges the gap between 2016’s Captain America: Civil War and the forthcoming Avengers: Infinity War, centring on King T’Challa’s difficult early days on the throne, which include a challenge from Michael B. Jordan’s Erik ‘Killmonger’ Stevens, and thwarting arms dealer Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis) who plots alongside Killmonger to raid Wakanda of its lucrative deposits of indestructible metal Vibranium.
Featuring an all-star and mainly all-black cast, including Oscar winners Lupita Nyong’o and Forest Whitaker, The Walking Dead’s star Danai Gurira and Angela Bassett, Black Panther showcases an epic vision of the fictional east African nation untouched by colonisation, complete with shimmering high-rise towers, hover-trains, sprawling African grasslands and a sparkling dream-savannah where T’Challa visits the ancestors.
The storyline charts the rise of the young king, starting with a spot of ritual combat, and then a failed mission to recover some lost Vibranium.
The culture clash between the uncolonised and technologically-advanced Wakandans makes for plenty of humorous moments, many of them led by Letitia Wright’s Shuri, who channels James Bond’s Q to provide her brother T'Challa with top of the range gadgets.
Director Coogler, who co-wrote the script with Joe Robert Cole, peppers the dialogue with some barbed references to real-world colonialism. In one exchange between Killmonger and a curator at the Museum of Great Britain, when she objects to him stealing some Wakandan relics, he hisses: “How do you think your ancestors got them?”
For all its visual difference the storyline sticks with standard Marvel territory, as we see T’Challa make the journey from son to confident King, weathering the challenges.
But unlike other Marvel movies, which tend to have a token ass-kicking female, this one has a battalion, the Dora Milaje, led by the fierce female general Okoye (Gurira).
The female stars don’t disappear to the sidelines in this film as both Gurira and Nyong’o (Nakia) get extended opportunities show off their fighting skills in a way that feels authentic and empowering.
Just like his critically acclaimed 2015 Rocky spin-off Creed, Coogler presents a fresh perspective on a well-worn format, and it’s all the better for it.
With all the pre-movie hype, it would have been no great surprise had it not lived up to it, but Black Panther really is a great addition to the Marvel canon.
It’s a stunning realisation of the comic book series, featuring a cast who embody the nation of Wakanda and its people.
Boseman will prove an inspirational figure as the first black Marvel superhero and he is well supported by a brace of top actors including Oscar nominee Daniel Kaluuya and Martin Freeman.
It’s well-paced, visually stunning, and like the best movies, leaves you wanting more. Believe the hype!
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