By Mario Ricciardi
On May 2, 2008 Marvel Studios changed the world with the release of “Iron Man.” No other franchise in history has managed to capture critical and commercial attention like the heroes of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The tales of Marvel’s super-powered saviors have fluctuated in content, theme and viewing platforms with the years, but nonetheless the phenomenon carries forward.
To keep the success going since “Iron Man,” Marvel has trodden deeper into the world of low-stakes fantasy, until now. The studio’s latest, “Black Panther,” ups the stakes, brings superheroes back to the real world and reminds us of how refreshing the Marvel Cinematic Universe can be.
After the murder of his father, T’Challa, king of the African Utopia, Wakanda, returns home to take his place at the throne. Both ruler and protector as the persona Black Panther, T’Challa must decide how to meet the needs of his people. This challenge escalates when he is threatened by a terrorist with radicalized notions of how the world should be saved.
“Black Panther”’s themes of kings, rebellions and family loyalty prove it to be the Shakespearean entry to Marvel’s ever-growing genre-hopping formula. I initially expected “Black Panther” to be a political thriller, but after the opening act I was quick to realize the ties in this film are rooted much deeper than just politics. “Black Panther” roots itself in culture — a culture that shows the beauty of a world outside of Marvel’s two other settings of awe-inspiring heroics (America and outer space).
“Black Panther” might be the most visually stunning Marvel film to date. Its cinematography is ripe with color and style. The film masterfully balances mixing ancient beauty with the beauty of the modern world through shots of the city of Wakanda, as well as a sequence in South Korea. “Black Panther” is ultimately about honoring the past to improve the future, and the art and design of the film hold true to that as much as the plot.
On a side note, this year’s Oscars ceremony hasn’t even taken place, but I wouldn’t be surprised if costume designer Ruth Carter gets a nomination for next year’s awards.
Starring in the film as T’Challa is “42” star Chadwick Boseman. He turns in an honest portrayal of the young Wakandan king but serves more as the glue holding together the true stars of the film: the women. Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira and Letitia Wright star as a spy, a bodyguard and a tech genius who all have strong personal ties to King T’Challa. These characters and their part in the bigger story is what the film plays best toward.
Opposing our heroes as the villains are Andy Serkis (yes, the actor who was the motion capture model for Gollum) and Michael B. Jordan. Serkis as the maniacal Ulysses Klaue may be Marvel’s most interesting onscreen villain ever. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for Jordan’s Killmonger. His character has a good build- up in terms of backstory, but Jordan’s follow through comes across as weak.
Killmonger aside, just about everything in this film succeeds. The scenery and the costumes are nothing short of beautiful, the action sequences are exhilarating and the characterization is great. Modernizing a tale told countless times before is no easy task, but director Ryan Coogler makes it look easy with “Black Panther.”
The film fits perfectly into the Marvel Universe, but makes a name for itself alone. “Black Panther” is bold, refreshing and worth your time.
🐧🐧🐧🐧 (4/5 Penguins)