Sunday 18 February 2018

Black Panther - Ryan Coogler

Black Panther - Ryan Coogler

Black Panther may not be the first film based on a black comic book character, but boy has he come at the right time.

This is Marvel at their most political. It's a film about the integration of the black community and wider society; about black supremacy versus diplomacy and equality; about the power of Africa and its influence over the diaspora. In times of crisis we should build alliances not walls - a direct criticism of current American politics.

It's probably one of the most important cinematic releases in recent history, not for lecturing about black history, but for being a piece of popular culture that celebrates black culture - in particular African culture - so positively.

Black Panther is from the fictional land of Wakanda, an Afro-futurist world in central Africa hidden from view. It's built on the crash site of an asteroid that provides Wakanda with vibranium, a mysterious alien metal used to build advanced technology. It's this metal that powers the suit of the Black Panther, a warrior who ingests a special herb that provides him with superhuman abilities. But should this technology be shared with the world, or remain hidden to protect Wakanda? The return of an African-American to claim the position of Black Panther threatens to unbalance society as a whole.

Wakanda is stunningly depicted - in the midst of the African rainforest and the sun-soaked sahara is a metropolis of futuristic architecture and technology, inhabited by five different tribes in costumes inspired by traditional African dress. They fight with high-powered spears and ride armoured rhinos, the world filled with tribal colour, dances and animal symbolism. It's like nothing else in cinema.

The score, from Ludwig Göransson, similarly blends African instruments, rhythms and chanting with lush orchestration and hip-hop beats, which continues in Kendrick Lamar's soundtrack that riffs on the film's themes with contemporary flair. And then there's the cast, literally a who's who of black Hollywood including Lupita Nyong'o, Angela Bassett, Forest Whitaker and Daniel Kaluuya.

As far as representation goes, Black Panther is politically charged and highly poignant. But here's the rub: strip all that away and you're still left with one of the coolest superhero films ever. It's a Marvel film so of course there are plot holes, but on the whole the story is satisfying with some incredible action sequences - the car chase across Korea is a thrilling highlight. It also strikes a balance between sincerity and comedy, particularly with its characters. The female cast especially balance fierce power with likeable sass: Letitia Wright, Lupita Nyong'o and Danai Gurira absolutely steal the film.

Perhaps the only disappointment is Black Panther himself (Chadwick Boseman), a stoic leader who is ultimately upstaged by the supporting cast. But the authentic, believable world of Wakanda is the real focus, as inherently black as it is a colourful wonder. Polished, fun, and strikingly relevant: Black Panther is Marvel's best film yet.


Watch: Black Panther is out now.