(2018—Director: Ryan Coogler)
— by Renard N. Bansale —
(out of 5 stars)
Potential spoilers below
Greetings, cinema of 2018!
It is hard to believe that I have jumped from watching around fifty new releases to around 240 new releases in just four years. I struggle to even remember the days before reaching such numbers, the days when I still just watched films for enjoyment. If I had to pick one of the key transition years, though, I would pick 2013.
2013, of course, was the year of Gravity and Frozen, not to mention eventual Best Picture Oscar winner 12 Years a Slave. However, months before the important subject matter of 12 Years a Slave carried it to Oscar victory, another movie involving an African American subject held the attention of awards followers—Fruitvale Station, the feature-length debut of one writer-director Ryan Coogler. I saw the biographical drama during its wide release in July of 2013. I thought it was a spectacular debut, but not a personal top ten for the year and not an unquestionable Oscar player. (That proved true when Coogler’s debut was absent when the Academy unveiled the 86th Oscar nominations.) Coogler further impressed audiences and critics with 2015’s Creed, which saw many Best Supporting Actor notices for Sylvester Stallone (reprising his beloved role of Rocky Balboa).
Both Fruitvale Station and Creed saw Coogler teaming up with actor Michael B. Jordan and that director-actor duo continues with Coogler’s entry into the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). Jordan shifts to the villain role to make way for Chadwick Boseman, reprising as the superhero whose supporting presence in 2016’s Captain America: Civil War impressed many viewers. Coogler’s Black Panther succeeds in becoming one of the MCU’s most enthralling installments, despite the narrowing proximity between it and the upcoming Infinity War that caps its overall scope.
After the death of his father T’Chaka (John Kani) and helping capture those responsible, T’Challa/Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) returns home to the reclusive and technologically-advanced African country of Wakanda to ascend the vacant throne. The shifty South African arms dealer Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis) and an ex-United States black ops operative known as Erik “Killmonger” Stevens (Michael B. Jordan) pose a threat to T’Challa’s reign, especially since Killmonger was part of a secret Wakandan conspiracy unknown to the new king. T’Challa must rally his closest Wakandan allies in addition to C.I.A. agent Everett K. Ross (Martin Freeman) to prevent a violent uprising on a worldwide scale.
Ryan Coogler and co-writer Joe Robert Cole construct a glossy, superhero-infused drama of generational redemption and political upheaval. Even with Coogler and Cole’s ideal storyline of a newly-crowned king overcoming his father’s mistakes, many would admit that Chadwick Boseman’s T’Challa is more riveting to watch as the supporting voice of reason (e.g., Civil War or the upcoming Infinity War). The female players, in a breath of fresh air, even outshine Boseman at times, Danai Gurira and Letitia Wright in particular. Gurira displays an impenetrable formidability as one of Wakanda’s greatest generals, while Letitia Wright’s bubbly intelligence as the new king’s younger sister and technical designer would cause Q from the recent James Bond films to swoon.
Of course, many who champion Black Panther direct their praise towards Michael B. Jordan’s Killmonger. Jordan intimidates well to complement his poignant, well-spoken backstory. However, I would not rush to proclaim Killmonger as the MCU’s best villain. After two viewings, I feel that Black Panther only grants Killmonger a pitifully transient victory over T’Challa. The fight for the throne and for the future of Wakanda’s vibranium technology with respect to the rest of the world take place within a thirty-six hour window at best. I blame the limited time before Infinity War, both in the cinematic universe’s narrative and in real life, for pressuring writers Coogler and Cole to hasten the last third of the movie. Still, Black Panther’s compelling generational conflict gives its 134-minute runtime the steady emotional undercurrent I felt was sorely lacking in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2’s scattershot family drama.
Though not as gloriously joyous as Thor: Ragnarök or as refreshing as Spider-Man: Homecoming (still amazed by that twist), Black Panther thrills as one of the MCU’s more standalone entries to date. On top of its solid script, Black Panther boasts one of the MCU’s stronger acting ensembles, gorgeous visuals, three fantastic long take shots (courtesy of d.p. Rachel Morrison), and a memorable, African style-heavy score by Swedish composer Ludwig Göransson (even rendering superfluous Kendrick Lamar’s original songs). Ryan Coogler not only maintains his stellar directorial streak thus far, but the combination of Coogler’s MCU offering, Spider-Man: Homecoming, and Thor: Ragnarök make me as excited for what this franchise will unleash in Infinity War as I was back in 2012.
(Parental Note: Black Panther has been rated PG-13 by the MPAA “for prolonged sequences of action violence, and a brief rude gesture”. It has also been rated 12A by the BBFC for “moderate violence”, “injury detail”, and a “rude gesture”, and rated A-III (Adults and older adolescents) by the Catholic News Service for containing “nonscriptural religious ideas and practices, much stylized violence with minimal gore, several crude and at least one crass term, and an obscene gesture.”)
Renard N. Bansale once aspired to become an astronaut, before he found his passion in film discussion, criticism, conducting script-reading sessions of feature-film screenplays, and annual Oscar tracking. Hailing from Seattle, WA, Renard is currently pursuing his M.A. in Biblical Theology (Catechetical track) at JPCatholic after graduating from the school in 2016 with a B.S. in Communications Media (Emphasis in Screenwriting).
For more movie reviews by Renard, click here.