Arts movie review

What does it mean to be a king?

The mythical land of Wakanda shines through in the new Black Panther

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Michael Jordan and Daniel Kaluuya star in Marvel's 'Black Panther.'
Courtesy of Marvel Studios

Directed by Ryan Coogler
Starring: Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Martin Freeman
Playing Feb. 16, 2018

Superhero — the word comes with concomitants hard to escape. The image of a sure-footed lone wolf is something Hollywood has only recently started ditching in favor of the superhuman characters who are, paradoxically, more human than ever. Black Panther continues the trend and exemplifies what a superhero movie can be when the director is willing to forego the cliches and go forward with a fresh take on the idea. T’challa (Chadwick Boseman), the Black Panther and king of Wakanda, doesn’t get through the movie unscarred, but the complexity of questions he asks and the breadth of help he needs from his team and his people cement his place as one of the major heroes in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Chadwick Boseman might be the least interesting actor in the whole movie, but that is only because the rest of the characters really shine in their roles. Kudos must go to Letitia Wright as Princess Shuri, the combination of a comic relief and the guy-in-the-chair executed so perfectly that there was not a single scene in which she felt out of place. Lupita Nyong'o, Danai Gurira, and the rest of the female cast dominated the spotlight and pulled off a spectacular performance that is stronger than those in any other superhero movies in recent history.

Immense props must also go to Ryan Coogler, who drew from African culture to make this movie a whirlwind of colors and textures. His touch spans from the spreading panoramic shots to the miniature, intricate tattoos, which results in the most intricate worldbuilding MCU has seen in a while. Rachel Morrison’s cinematography is also praiseworthy — the way she brings us up close and personal in some of the fight scenes creates an immersive experience.

The initial fight scene in the forest and the car chase scene in the beginning showed enough promise to rival previous strong productions like Winter Soldier. Later, though, the fight scenes become quite drawn-out through a somewhat lacking use of CGI. The soundtrack, however, more than makes up for it with a mix of modern and traditional instruments and loops and beats from hip-hop and sets the mood appropriately for almost all the scenes. Kendrick Lamar’s original tracks interspersed through the movie also add an ambiance to already richly decorated scenes.

The antagonists do not spare any efforts to make the colorful world their own — on screen and within the cinematic universe. Michael B. Jordan’s “Killmonger” might be one of the most motivated adversaries on-screen coming from a comic book movies. Character building for Killmonger, unlike his quite “comical” name, was quite on point: voicing the frustration over something quite reasonable and trying to solve the problem the only way he knew how. In this way, he was more of an anti-hero than a villain. Andy Serkis, the god of motion capture behind iconic roles like Gollum, gets his own chance to shine as the crazed, evil arms dealer.

The biggest enigma is, of course, the country of Wakanda. A technologically advanced, isolationist black nation during the times of oppression brings the question: what should its role be now? And that is the question the two kings in this movie struggle over — it’s more moral than personal. Being kings, heroes, but more than that, being human, is what highlights the series of black panthers shown in this movie, and this is the point where it succeeds most prominently to capture our hearts.

More than anything, Black Panther successfully played its role in today’s racially charged time: a predominantly black movie when Hollywood is criticized of being overwhelmingly white and a movie with strong female presence during the time of #MeToo. Through the messages of unity sent out by King T’Challa, to “build bridges instead of barriers” in a time of crisis, Coogler gives a superhero voice to the critical issues of our time. As a time-appropriate piece of art, I can recommend Black Panther to you unabashedly — if you are a fan of movies, you will enjoy it.