Stepping into the world of feature filmmaking in 2013, Ryan Coogler made an instant splash with his debut feature The Fruitvale Station. Then in 2015, he cemented himself as one of the best rising filmmakers when he steered a beloved franchise into a fresh direction. Creed, a spin-off of Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky saga, treated the legacy of its source material with utmost respect yet carved an identity of its own and it still remains one of the best sports dramas out there. And now, with his latest film, Coogler has catapulted himself to even greater heights, for Black Panther marks his third home run in a row and is refreshing on more levels than one.
The eighteenth instalment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the story of Black Panther takes place after the events of Captain America: Civil War and follows T’Challa who returns to his homeland to assume the throne. Isolated from the world by posing as a third world African nation, Wakanda happens to have the richest deposits of Vibranium that has allowed its people to develop advanced technology. Still adjusting to his new responsibility as the King, T’Challa finds his sovereignty challenged when a new adversary shows up on their doorstep, reveals his true identity & claim to the throne, and plans to expose the secrets of Wakanda to the entire world.
Co-written & directed by Ryan Coogler, one of the highlights of Black Panther is how everything about it is firmly rooted in the African culture, its heritage, its traditions, its history, its mythology & its landscapes. Add to that, Coogler has given such rich personalities to all his characters that the eponymous figure isn’t the only one with a compelling arc. Whether it’s the protagonist, the antagonist, the supporting characters, reprising or new, every one of them exhibit a certain depth which assists the actors greatly in portraying their respective characters. The plot outline isn’t any different from Marvel’s existing blueprint but the film exudes a freshness that makes it stand out.
Production design team brings the technologically advanced Wakanda to life by taking inspirations from the existing resources and then imagining its futuristic setting from there. Cinematography finds the director employing his trademark of long takes as he manoeuvres the camera around in a manner that provides its action segments an energetic flair. Add to that, its radiant colour palette & bright lighting makes the images come alive in vivid detail. Editing provides characters their breathing space but there are few uneven patches in the middle that slow down the narrative. The African influence is evident in the costumes design and the entire attire gets further uplifted by the additional accessories.
Coming to the performances, Black Panther features a predominantly black cast in Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Letitia Wright, Daniel Kaluuya, Martin Freeman, Andy Serkis & others. Boseman plays the eponymous character with panache, and is expertly supported by Freeman & Serkis who contribute with brilliant individual inputs of their own. Jordan is charismatic as Killmonger plus his actions & motives are relatable to an entire demographic. But it’s the women who leave the most lasting impression of them all. Gurira steals every scene she is in. Wright packs a strong screen presence as well. Nyong’o plays her part with finesse. Equally worthy of mention is Winston Duke, for he’s hilarious as M’baku.
On an overall scale, Black Panther is a celebration of a heritage that rarely gets a just portrayal on the silver screen. Steeped in Afro-culture, packed with relevant themes, dense with meaty characters, powered by a committed ensemble, and steered by a talented filmmaker who’s only getting better with every subsequent feature, Black Panther is enjoyable, entertaining & engaging for the most part and will leave most of its viewers satisfied. But it also isn’t without its shortcomings, for the Visual effects aren’t always convincing, the climactic showdown is quite a letdown considering all the build up that went into it, and its pacing could’ve been improved. As for its score, composed by Ludwig Göransson, it drives the story home with its African percussions & chorals and that Killmonger theme is an absolute delight. To sum it all up, Black Panther is another solid addition to Marvel Studios’ canon and is definitely one of their finest entries to date.