Black Panther(2018) Review

Director : Ryan Coogler
Genre : Superhero
Synopsis : After the death of his father in Captain America: Civil War, the King of Wakanda, returns home to the isolated, technologically advanced African Nation to succeed to the throne and take his rightful place as king.

Marvel's Game of Thrones!

Ever wonder why The Dark Knight(2008) is regarded as more than just a brilliant superhero film? Why is Game of Thrones regarded as more than just a thrilling fantasy show? Is it only due to the presence of the Joker in the former, and a cocktail of sex & violence in the latter? I certainly don't think so. In my opinion, it's the significant political undertones that provide a meditation on the subtlety and fickleness of power, that give both a repeat-value. 

Black Panther is quite unlike any superhero movie I've ever seen. What's so great about Black Panther as a superhero is that you're not entirely sure if he fits the label of a superhero. Similar to The Dark Knight Rises(2012), you mostly see him outside his superhero costume, because for the most part, he isn't really Black Panther. What you instead get to see is a politician, who is responsible for his country Wakanda, a fictitious, landlocked country in Eastern Africa, that has hitherto been free of Western colonial devastation. The country's resources have been unplundered, it's cultural heritage is fully realized, and it's technological achievements embody the country's material and intellectual resources. 

There used to be a time when I would consider watching a Marvel film as just a means to de-stress. One would go watching a Marvel film expecting the regular popcorn entertainment coupled with some bombastic action sequences and superhero cameos. And while one would always awe at their creative challenge of making content exist in a particular universe where the characters tie in and crossover, one would never expect the filmmakers at MCU to give priority to plot and characterization over the regular superhero template.

With Captain America: Civil War(2016) and Logan(2017), Marvel has shown how it can employ the use of a coherent plotline to add emotional character development to its charismatic superheroes, and give us something that is both, intense and entertaining. With Black Panther, Marvel goes a step further by exploring previously unexplored themes in the superhero genre. Like last year's Wonder Woman, Black Panther has every bit the opportunity to be a seminal event. In fact, one could go so far as to call it as culturally significant as this year's Best Picture Oscar nominee Get Out(2017). While Get Out spoke about the horrors of liberal racism, through Black Panther, director Ryan Coogler talks about the harmful effects of succumbing to the temptation of black radicalism as a means of taking up arms against the oppressive white-supremacist powers. 

It is through these themes that the movie gives us a flawed superhero T'Challa, who may not be the most politically correct person around. It is that rare film where we see how wrong the hero's isolationist ideologies are, and just how right the villain is. Unlike an arrogant Tony Stark, here's a hero who acknowledges his mistakes, and even apologizes for them. Unlike Captain America, here's a hero who is vocal enough to admit  how he is afraid of taking upon the responsibilities that have suddenly been bestowed on him. Chadwick Boseman plays him with just the right balance of arrogance, coolness and hot-headed impulsiveness. 

Michael B. Jordan as the villain packs in just the right amount of spunk and gives his character a distinct Afro-punk style that completely steals the show, especially in the second half. I almost heaved a sigh of relief when I found out that Marvel did not repeat its mistake of giving us a superhero villain masked as a CGI entity. I have always failed to understand how an actor slathered under layers of pixel can be anywhere as menacing or charismatic as say, The Joker or Loki. Just look at DC's botched up attempt at creating the ludicrous Steppenwolf in last year's Justice League, which looked more like a digital blob that has stepped right out of a Nineties PlayStation game.

By contrast, Michael Jordan's Killmonger feels far more real and relatable. There are moments where you even agree with his ideology but you hate his methods. This is not a villain whose sole intent is world domination. This is a villain that has been wronged, a villain who has been created out of the supposedly good guy's wrongdoings. You definitely understand what drives him to do the detestable things we witness. He is the very personification of democratic perversion, an autocrat who is elected as per the rules of the game, but who then changes the rules in order to maintain his power.

The film benefits enormously from a superb supporting cast. Letitia Wright as T'Challa's genius sister Shuri brings about an innovative spirit to the movie, and resembles a female Tony Stark in the making. Much like the Tony Stark-Bruce Banner banter seen in The Avengers(2012), it would be interesting to see Robert Downey Jr. and her sharing screen space in the future MCU installments. Martin Freeman shows up to provide some of his usual confused humor. 

Ludwig Goransson's music is evocative and celebrates the hero's African heritage, and even reminded me of Hans Zimmer's operatic score in The Lion King(1994), another movie whose roots were deeply planted in the Africa heartland. 

The real strength of Black Panther is just how well the film avoids showing pain, suffering and poverty, all the usual topics about the black experience. The Afro-punk aesthetic, the unapologetic black swagger, the miniscule appearances from non-black characters, all make way for something that is respectable, imaginative and powerful. 

With an unusually complex and resonant story that is every bit Shakespearean at its core, Marvel gives us its most emotionally rich hero till date. Like The Dark Knight, it rises beyond being just a superhero film, and instead takes us on a big geopolitical action adventure that focuses on the royal struggle of a family, and what it means to be a king.

If this is what the future of superhero films look like, then deal me in!

I'm going with 3.5/5.

Stray Observations(May Contain Spoilers) :

* Black Panther could very well have been a remake of The Lion King. Perhaps the biggest nod to the eternal Disney classic is how the characters of  T'Challa and N'Jadaka establish contact with their departed fathers, respectively. 

* Killmonger's scars are also a nod to the character Scar from The Lion King.

* Andy Serkis seems to be having a real ball playing a non-CGI character, for once. 


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