It may sound like an overstatement, but Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther is a groundbreaking comic book movie. Arriving on a global stage, Black Panther is the first superhero of African origin to get his own stand-alone adventure. Played by Chadwick Boseman, who briefly introduced the character in Marvel’s Captain America: Civil War, Prince T’Challa, as he’s known, is a dignified and determined hero who must ascend to the throne of the fictional African nation of Wakanda, after the death of his father.
Yet more than that, all through Black Panther, the characters and actors tie into wider dialogues, representatives of ethnicities often overlooked by the blockbuster film industry, and indeed when Martin Freeman pops up as the CIA suit Everett K. Ross, he’s wonderfully conspicuous as the one white man in Wakanda. For a Hollywood blockbuster this is nothing short of revolutionary and is to be applauded. Boseman aside, there are fine performances from Michael B. Jordan – Coogler’s regular star from Fruitvale and Creed – as a former Wakanda resident with a deadly agenda and 12 Years A Slave Oscar-winner Lupita Nyong’o as Nakia, T’Challa’s former lover.
Thankfully, Coogler and his co-writer Joe Robert Cole have integrated these stars into a compelling story that begins after mercenary Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis) steals an artefact made of Vibranium, the precious metal only to be found in Wakanda. A theft that sends T’Challa after him, initially to Busan in South Korea for an incredibly vibrant sequence, the Wakanda leader is joined by Nakia and Okoye (Danai Gurira), the leader of his all-female bodyguard posse (and, yes, the female roles are all impressively rendered here).
Coogler balances somber themes about legacy and leadership with the top-notch action and the requisite humour that has made the Marvel brand so successful. With the likes of Angela Bassett, Forest Whitaker and Get Out’s Oscar nominee Daniel Kaluuya also in the cast, it’s an embarrassment of riches. True, the film feels a little long at 134 minutes and T’Challa himself doesn’t go on a particularly radical story arc. But then again he’s due to reappear in the upcoming Avengers: Infinity War, with Iron Man, Captain America and others. The revolution, as they say, will be televised.
Black Panther opens in cinemas on 13 February. For more information, click here.
1. Still from Black Panther. Courtesy of Disney.