Black Panther – Film Review
Director: Ryan Coogler
Stars: Chadwick Boseman, Michael B Jordan, Martin Freeman
by Roger Crow
Unlike Marvel favourites Spider-Man, Captain America, Hulk, Doctor Strange and Thor, Black Panther was never given a dry run as a TV movie. Launched in the 1960s, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s creation barely got a look in as an animated hero either. Which seems odd as he has such a rich back story and interesting characters.
However, now Marvel has a decade’s worth of blockbusters under their belt, it’s clear they’re willing to take a few ’risks’, such as an African American superhero. Of course this should have all happened decades ago, and at one point it looked like it would with Wesley Snipes, but he opted for a lesser Marvel character – Blade.
No, Black Panther’s road to the big screen has been a long, rocky one. And at the helm is director Ryan Coogler, whose critical success with Rocky sequel Creed proved he could breathe life into one of Marvel’s most ambitious movies.
As a fan of the comics, thanks to black and white British reprints from the early eighties, I was keen to see if the movie worked, but the trailer left me cold. Generic shots involving flying vehicles and expensive futuristic cityscapes all felt rather derivative. Then the reviews arrived, and critics claimed it was an epic like no other.
So I settle in for what is admittedly a visually stunning adventure, but while millions of dollars were obviously spent on the effects and stunning costumes, about a tenner was spent on the script. It’s a yawnsome array of humdrum one-liners, clumsy exposition and forgettable monologues.
There are some standout lines, most notably from excellent villain Killmonger during the obligatory showdown. It’s one of those movies where the villains are far more interesting than the heroes. Michael B Jordan is more rounded than Chadwick Boseman’s bland, noble hero T’Challa. He sounds like a young Nelson Mandela throughout, but the banter with his sister Shuri falls flat.
On the subject of which, Shuri, the gadgets mistress – a Q to Boseman’s Bond if you like – is one of the most memorable characters in the movie. Letitia Wright, last seen in the excellent Black Mirror, is a fun, engaging breath of fresh air, and along with a scenery-chewing Andy Serkis and ever reliable Martin Freeman, helps lift the film to another level.
It’s not a bad movie, though some ropey CG rhinos, confusing action scenes with the gravity-defying hero, and an improbable laboratory which looks like a tourist attraction at Epcot does jar a little. And the ritual fight scenes feel like a musical waiting for a rousing song that never comes.
And don’t get me started on those masks and suits that appear out of thin air. The Batmobile’s instant CG shields bugged me in 1992’s Batman Returns, and this looks even more improbable. Yes it’s a fantasy but the best comic book conversions, like Chris Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, have a believable gravitas. This just feels like anything can be summoned from thin air.
“Mammoth box office returns”
Solid support comes from Get Out’s BAFTA-winning Daniel Kaluuya, while Angela Bassett, Lupita Nyong’o, Forest Whitaker and The Walking Dead’s Danai Gurira help give the saga some heft.
I hope Coogler and Boseman have a better script for ‘Black Panther 2’. So much time and effort was taken on the look of hidden kingdom Wakanda, that it would be nice if the dialogue matched the occasionally stunning vision.