Some movies I watch and forget. Others make me come home and hit Google. For example, the latest Marvel film, Black Panther, had me looking into Afrofuturism, the fusion of sci-fi, fantasy, speculative fiction and afrocentrism that made Black Panther seem so unique in the superhero genre.
In Black Panther, T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) has just been crowned king of Wakanda, a futuristic paradise hidden beneath the facade of a “third world country.” He immediately faces pressure to capture Klaue (Andy Serkis), a thief who killed his father and stole vibranium, the valuable metal that powers Wakanda’s technology and T’Challa’s Black Panther suit. Supported by his sister, Shuri (Letitia Wright); a spy, Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o); and a general, Okoye (Danai Gurira), T’Challa must navigate the demands from his countrymen W’Kabi (Daniel Kaluuya) and M’Baku (Winston Duke) and the threat to his throne posed by an outsider (Michael B. Jordan). The film also stars Angela Bassett as the queen mother, Sterling K. Brown as T’Challa’s uncle, and Forest Whitaker as Zuri. Oh, and Martin Freeman plays a CIA agent.
I will preface my review by saying that I am not a comics aficionado. I figured Black Panther would be fun, because superheroes are, but I did not anticipate how interesting and beautiful the movie would be. Black Panther does a stunning job of merging traditional African styles with Afrofuturism and sci-fi. As a result, Wakanda is a gorgeous fantasy kingdom filled with cool technology and compelling characters. The visual texture and the layered score were dazzling. I was kind of in love with the aesthetic of the movie.
Speaking of love, I particularly enjoyed the relationships between T’Challa and the women in his life. Shuri, his younger sister, is the genius behind the gadgets in the movie. She is clever and hilarious and ought to have her own movie. Letitia Wright is adorable and charming in the role, and she and Boseman have great chemistry as siblings. Nakia and Okoye fight several battles with the Black Panther, but they are more than sidekicks. They strategize, deal with questions of loyalty, and are fully developed people. I applaud the film for how many great roles there are for women.
At its heart, Black Panther has two main thrusts. On one side, there is a classic story of a contested royal line. It’s Shakespearian. On the other, the film depicts a young king struggling to decide how his country should move forward: continued isolationism or providing aid to black people the world over. In doing so, the film provides a dramatization of pressing political issues of our time, but with an intriguing twist. It isn’t pedantic, but it offers the opportunity for thought.
And, if fight scenes are more your thing, Black Panther has plenty of those too. The car and plane chase scenes are pretty neat, but I found the hand-to-hand combat more intense and emotional.
Black Panther is not a short movie, but I never felt like it lagged. It is quickly plotted, the acting is stellar, and the attention to detail, down to the smart casting of younger versions of characters, gave my eyes and ears plenty of treats. I rate it 4.5 of 5 stars.
Black Panther was written and directed by Ryan Coogler, based on the Marvel comics. It runs 2 hours and 14 minutes and is rated PG-13 for prolonged sequences of action violence and a brief rude gesture.
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