What if an entire country was Batman?
Black Panther (M)
Marvel Studios’ latest entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is a winner- beautifully shot, beautifully told, and full of action with only the slightest hint of CGI getting in the way near the end.
Technically it’s an origin story, but other than a brief flashback at the start of the film, the story picks up from the events of Captain America: Civil War. T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) ascends to the Wakandan throne after his father is killed in a terrorist attack.
Wakanda portrays itself to the world as a poor nation of farmers, but this is an illusion; the country sits on a massive reserve of vibranium (the material in Captain America’s shield) and is rich, stable and technologically advanced. The king has an alter-ego as the Black Panther, Wakanda’s legendary protector, and as part of the job routinely travels outside the kingdom to pursue covert missions.
Arms dealer Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis, reprising his role from Civil War) and former special-ops soldier Erik “Killmonger” Stevens (Michael B. Jordan), however, know Wakanda’s secret. When Klaue steals an artifact made of vibranium from a London museum and attempts to sell it in Seoul, T’Challa opts to personally intervene. But the United States has an agent in the field as well (played by Martin Freeman, also backing up from Civil War), and the mission doesn’t quite go to plan. The results don’t just threaten Wakanda’s cover, but could very well threaten the entire nation itself.
Early on I almost thought I was in for a James Bond film- T’Challa has a Q (his sister Shuri, played by Letitia Wright) who sets him up with gadgets from Wakanda’s armoury, and there’s a car chase shortly after. I’m both sad and grateful it doesn’t follow that formula; I’m one of those people who would have liked to see the suggested Idris Elba Bond movie to see how it would turn out. But rather than just being an agent following orders, T’Challa is the king, dishing them out, and the responsibility of the throne is a major character trait (and a plot point).
The film also doesn’t rely heavily on the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe; other than a brief reference to Civil War, it tells its own story, with the only cameo from other films appearing in the final stinger after the credits. It has a serious tone with its humour mostly coming from wry asides, so it doesn’t get as light-hearted as Ant-Man or the two Guardians films, but it never gets terribly dark, either.
Speaking of darkness, other than part of the final fight sequence (which is heavily CGI-ed and looks like something out of Tron), the film is spectacularly shot. Brightly colourful with amazing costume design, the five tribes of Wakanda and its various military factions each have their own look. And it keeps busy; there was never any point in its 134-minute run where I was looking at my watch or letting my mind wander (other than the Bond comparison, but then I’m a huge James Bond nerd).
News reports this week suggest that Black Panther could be the biggest Marvel release yet, and it’s thoroughly deserved. I’d suggest it’s easily the best Marvel flick since the first Guardians of the Galaxy; like that film, it’s new, fresh, and tells us a story we haven’t heard before. Even if you think you’re suffering from Superhero Movie Burnout, it’s worth checking out Black Panther.
Trailers seen (Hoyts): Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, Avengers: Infinity War, Mission Impossible: Fallout, Solo: A Star Wars Story.