Chadwick Boseman returns to play T'Challa (aka Black Panther), after making a great impression in Captain America: Civil War, and even the most casual film fan cannot help but notice that this film has made quite an impact, even when considered alongside the rest of the Marvel filmography. It's been the kind of success story that leads to one hyperbolic review after another, and then the inevitable contrary opinions. It's been called the best Marvel movie ever. It's been singled out as something having huge social and cultural importance. The truth, as always, lies somewhere in between the extremes.
I'm not going to go into every plot beat here. Suffice to say, T'Challa is about to become King of his land, Wakanda, and he also has to consider how he wants to lead. Should Wakanda remain hidden away from the rest of the world, or should all be revealed in an attempt to start helping those less fortunate? There's also a fun villain to be dealt with (Andy Serkis), some extremely badass women (Lupita Nyong'o, Danai Gurira, and Letitia Wright), and someone who may just want to force Wakanda to change, whether the people want to or not (this last figure is played by Michael B. Jordan). All of these players do fantastic work, with Gurira and Jordan being standouts. Boseman is a solid lead, but not half as charismatic as many of those around him, nothing to be ashamed of when the cast also includes the wonderful Angela Bassett, Forest Whitaker, Sterling K. Brown, and David Oyelowo, among others.
First of all, Black Panther is a solid Marvel movie. It's not great though, and it's certainly not the best of the lot, at least not in terms of simple entertainment value and superhero antics. The action beats are, for the most part, a bit understated, and this is a more thoughtful look at how best to use superpowers (be they physical or societal).
Director Ryan Coogler continues his hot streak, also teaming up with Joe Robert Cole to work on the script here, and his decisions transform what could easily have been a generic superhero film, with a different cultural flavour, into something that somehow remains focused throughout on both the superficial fun and also the issues that will encourage dialogue long after the end credits have rolled.
While I have already mentioned the notion of how power can be used, there's more to Black Panther than just that. Perhaps it's almost inevitable, given the natural resources that Wakanda has (it contains a huge amount of vibranium, apparently), that viewers are given comments on colonialism, both subtle and not-so-subtle. There's also the obvious element of representation and equality running throughout the whole thing, themes explored within the film that bleed beyond the edges of every frame and emanate out towards every viewer, for better or worse (in the case of idiots who view it as an antagonistic assault on their fragile egos).
While not the perfect modern classic that some might want it to be, the fact that Black Panther so expertly blends blockbuster beats with a relevance and social conscience for an audience demographic who rarely see representation on this level is well worth celebrating. I think that it IS an important film in the here and now, and I think it has been long overdue. But, most of all, I think that it's a good film. And that, as silly and shallow as it may sound, comes before everything else, and then allows everything else to work as well as it clearly has.
Black Panther is available to order here.
And there's a different, kind of American-flavoured, link here.