Black Panther – Movie Review – An extraordinary exploration of political and social themes.

After years of waiting, Black Panther is finally here. I had the absolute privilege and honour of attending the European Premiere for the film in London, and watching the film with the director and the cast. As the first major blockbuster with a predominantly black cast, this film was already special before it was released. Black culture has never been represented to level this in Hollywood before. This film has the potential to shift the paradigm when it comes to the representation of black culture, as well as when it comes to black actors and black ensemble casts getting more opportunities. The only black films that typically get attention and widespread praise, tend to be about slavery, crime and addiction. For once this is a celebrated black film that isn’t about those negative topics. Black Panther has broken that trend.

This film follows T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) who returns home to the isolated, technologically advanced nation of Wakanda, to take his place upon the throne as King after the death of his father. Whilst trying to identify the best way to lead his nation, a new threat emerges, Erik Killmonger (Micheal B. Jordan) who will stop at nothing to become the King of Wakanda.

The story of Black Panther is wonderful. Ryan Coogler and Joe Robert Cole’s script is ripe with character development and sophisticated themes. The way in which their writing weaves real world problems through out the narrative is exceptional. No comic book film has ever tackled these themes before. I feared this film would dodge the exploration of deeper, more political themes when it comes to race, oppression and social order. But I am thrilled to say the film incorporates these themes in a very organic way which benefits the overall narrative, but also a handful of the character arcs and motivations. The story also explores what it means to be a leader, and how you can’t let actions from the past, define your future. That’s a very strong message that is conveyed brilliantly. This film will provide black children with a hero and a leader they can identify with, but what elevates that is the fact that the overall message this story teaches, is one that will be a very inspirational and informative for children.

I cannot over emphasise how fantastic the entire cast is. It’s one of the best ensemble casts I’ve seen in a very long time, every single actor in the main cast felt like they were scene stealing. That sounds bizarre to say because usually when you say someone is a scene stealer, you are putting them on a higher level than everyone else, but here everyone is on the same level, it’s just that level of quality is extremely high. Everyone gets their moment to shine, there’s so many crowd pleasing scenes and thanks to the wonderful script, even the supporting characters end up being fully developed characters with their own character journeys and arcs.

Chadwick Boseman is literally perfect as T’Challa. He conveys the characters emotions and inner conflicts so brilliantly. He doesn’t even need to use his voice to do it, he can tell you so much about what T’Challa is feeling and thinking just through his eyes alone. We get to see T’Challa in a somewhat vulnerable state in this story due to the death of his father (shown in Captain America: Civil War), and due to him coming to terms with becoming the King of Wakanda. I’m very pleased to see that there’s been a focus on maintaining the development of T’Challa from how he was in Civil War, to how he is now. In my eyes the greatest comic book heroes are the ones who battle emotional and inner conflicts, as well as their adversaries and in this film T’Challa really gets tested on all fronts.

Michael B. Jordan portrays T’Challa’s adversary, Erik Killmonger. He is ruthless, calculated and to my surprise within reason. Many will label him the villain of the story but I don’t like to use that term, simply because he isn’t evil. I prefer adversary because that’s exactly what he is to T’Challa. They are in conflict with one another, for a number of different reasons. I’ve always found the best antagonists are the ones who you can understand. If you can understand what’s motivating them to do what they are doing, then you may also be able to feel sympathy towards them and that in my eyes creates a memorable and compelling villain (or in this case adversary). Erik Killmonger is exactly that. He’s unpredictable and a pleasure to watch. What we learn about his past, which ends up being the fuel for his actions and larger motivations, made me empathise with him and feel as if he has justification for what he wants to achieve. All of this created a very rare scenario where at times I felt a little conflicted, because I understood both T’ Challa and Erik’s motivations to the point where I didn’t know who was more correct, and who was more wrong with their ideologies. The conflict between the hero and the villain (adversary in this case) left me enthralled. Michael eats up this role, his line delivery is great. He is strong willed and doesn’t doubt himself whatsoever in terms of what he can achieve. The script gives him some golden lines of dialogue that really helped strike a chord of empowerment within myself. And judging by the audible reactions of the crowd I saw the film with, it empowered them too. It’s these lines which actually make him likeable. What he represents and who he is trying aid is something that all black people can relate to. I truly believe Erik Killmonger is one of the best comic book film antagonists of all time, and he is the best antagonist in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, hands down.

Danai Gurira is utterly amazing as Okoye, the head of the Dora Milaje, who are T’Challa’s royal guards. Danai is a shinning example of power. She’s a strong woman who at no point needs assistance, she’s very capable with what she does, she is highly respected and although she follows her King, she still feels and remains independent in terms of herself as an individual. Danai handles her stunt work excellently and is surprisingly hilarious throughout. Her comedic timing is great. She’ll definitely remain in your memory long after the film has finished. Lupita Nyong’o portrays Nakia who is a spy operative of the Dora Milaje, she also has a special bond with T’Challa. She is a very independent and optimistic woman. She believes T’Challa shouldn’t be tied down into worrying about how the Kings that came before him lead the nation, but instead should focus on deciding what the best way of leading the nation would be at that current time. Despite her subtle affection for T’Challa she is a focused individual, who is very capable of handling her own business, just like all the women in the film. More often than not, the female love interest is typically used as a person for the hero to save and help evade danger. Also they usually end up relying on the hero to some capacity, but not here. It felt like a breath of fresh air to see a female with feelings for the hero to be portrayed in this manner. Letitia Wright portrays T’Challa’s 16 year old sister, Shuri. She’s the smartest individual in the whole film and in fact, if you were unaware she’s actually the smartest human in the MCU. Letitia’s chemistry with Chadwick felt organic and real. It was easy to believe that she was a young woman who looked up to her older brother, whilst still being able to use her intelligence to create the most advanced technology in the world. She handles her comedic moments flawlessly and was a constant joy to watch through out this story.

W’Kabi is portrayed by Daniel Kaluuya and his friendship with T’Challa becomes one of the more nuanced and impactful elements of story. The development and journey of his character was understandable and like Chadwick, I felt Daniel managed to convey a lot of thoughts and emotion, through his facial expressions. Martin Freeman was great as always, he reprises his role as Everett K. Ross and he had a bigger role in this story than I had expected, but I’m so glad that he did. I cannot understate how much of a terrific comedic actor Martin is. He utilises his expressions and mannerisms effortlessly to provide a number of great laughs. It was easy to see that Andy Serkis had a lot of fun playing Ulysses Klaue, he is very eccentric and has a very memorable presence. I loved Andy’s performance. I’ll be here for ages if I speak about the rest of the cast but rest assured, Winston Duke, Sterling K. Brown, Angela Bassett and Forest Whitaker were all fantastic too.

Ryan Coogler directed this film with raw finesse. He juggled all the characters in the ensemble impeccably, making sure every character has multiple moments to make their own. The moments of drama and action that are supposed to draw an emotional response from the viewer, absolutely do. You’ll want to experience this film with the biggest crowd possible. At the Premiere there were cheers, laughs and applauds aplenty, it was an experience I’ll never forget. The way Ryan directs this story is very impressive. Amongst all the visuals and action he never loses sight of the characters, and they remain the most important aspect of the story from start to finish. We get some great action set pieces but not an excessive amount, and whenever there is an action sequence it’s there to service the story and the characters. The first action sequence in the film was edited rather quickly, and because it was set at night with minimal lighting other than the muzzle flashes of gunfire, it was a little hard to see what was happening. Aside from that the rest of the action sequences are helmed with the skill of a veteran.

Director of Photography Rachel Morrison has shot a beautiful looking film. There’s some fantastic shots in this film. My favourite was a 180 degree spiralling shot. It was one of the eye catching moments from the trailers, the full shot in the film is much longer than the trailers would lead you to believe and it’s absolutely glorious. During the more extravagant sequences, Rachel maneuvers the camera around the sets with so much fluidity, that it truly captures the energy of the scene in every frame, which results in pulse pounding scenes that leave you in awe.

I had tears forming in my eyes many times through out the film because I’ve never experienced a film like this before, it struck me deep within my soul. I also had tears in my eyes when I got to witness Wakanda for the very first time. It was emotional seeing Africa and the culture being stunningly realised and represented on a massive scale. It felt like a wonderful celebration of African culture. This film is for everyone but if you are black, you will feel empowered and you will feel an immense amount of pride for our culture. The production design from the sets to the costumes, are all vivid and intricately detailed which only helps in making Wakanda feel like a real, lived in country.

I loved the musical score. Composer Ludwig Goransson blends traditional African instruments and percussion, with more contemporary sounds in such a pleasing way. The main theme he’s created for the Black Panther character is grand and truly feels like a fitting theme for a king. The inclusion of Kendrick Lamar’s curated soundtrack also worked surprisingly well through out the film. Those new songs were peppered amongst certain scenes but it never once felt out of place.

The only negative thing I have to say about this film, is essentially just a slight nitpick because it doesn’t alter the overall quality of the characters and story. The visual effects at times and for the most part are wonderful. But there are a couple shots that lacked polish, and there was also a couple shots where the green screen was a little noticeable. The final confrontation between T’Challa and Erik is quite visual effects heavy. I would’ve preferred to see more practical fighting between them instead of CGI heavy shots. Simply because some of the earlier fight scenes when it’s actor vs. actor with no visual effects, are excellently choreographed and thrilling to watch.

Black Panther is extraordinary. The film exceeded my monumental expectations. It’s a landmark film in the comic book genre, due to the fantastic exploration of political and social themes, that mirror real problems we face in our world today. The ensemble cast are phenomenal, every one is superb and memorable. Ryan Coogler’s direction as well as the representation of African culture, not only helps make this film standout among every other film in the genre. But also makes it standout among every other film that has ever been made.

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

(5 Stars Out of 5)

-T. Graham.

Black Panther – Starring Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Letitia Wright, Martin Freeman, Daniel Kaluuya, Andy Serkis, Angela Bassett, Forest Whitaker, Winston Duke and Sterling K. Brown.

Directed by Ryan Coogler.

Opens in U.K. Cinemas February 13th.

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