Black Panther – A Cinematic Marvel?

Black Panther; a cinematic Marvel?

Black Panther is the latest instalment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and has been a global success, hitting £910 million worldwide at the time of my writing this, and securing itself a spot on the top ten highest grossing movies of all time despite being in cinemas for less than a fortnight. It is evident that Marvel’s new approach to their movies is paying off with the financial success and high acclaim of films such as James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy, and more recently, Taika Waititi’s Thor; Ragnarok. The new freedom allotted to directors and screenwriters by Marvel may be their smartest move yet, as this breath of fresh air into a genre that many feel is becoming fatigued may be the very reason fans continue to invest into the MCU. Black Panther continues this trend and, clearly, it’s working.

 

 

 

Black Panther tells the story of T’Challa, the new king of Wakanda whom we’ve met in a previous instalment of the universe, Captain America: Civil War. The film builds and cements Wakanda as a world power and developing a diverse range of characters. One of the huge draws – and source of controversy for some – is the cast, the majority of which is made up of actors with African heritage, and only two of the main cast, Andy Serkis and Martin Freeman, being white. This kind of cultural diversity enriches the film, and the talent amassed is undeniable.

Andy Serkis steals the show, reprising the role of Ulysses Klaue, thief, smuggler, general bad guy. Serkis’ whimsical and maniacal nature as Klaue translates well on screen; the character adds much needed unpredictability to a film where the story can lack surprise, though admittedly somehow manages to build suspense. Michael B Jordan and Chadwick Boseman’s scenes opposite one another shine. Both Boseman and Jordan manage to create and portray a huge range of complex emotion and challenging fight choreography, and work almost symbiotically in enhancing the other’s talent. The relationship between Shuri, played by Black Mirror actor Letitia Wright, and her brother is one of my favourite things about the film – their interactions are authentic and well written; Shuri brightens her brothers’ natural seriousness with pop-culture references that make the humour of this film easily accessible in a way some other MCU titles are not. Additionally, while the main cast is undoubtedly mostly male, the supporting cast is almost entirely female. The inclusion of the Dora Milaje, the elite female royal guard, especially Okoye, portrayed by Danai Gurira provides a well balanced and complicated woman, who embraces her femininity to mean power. Okoye is not alone, with Lupita Nyong’o’s Nakia, the Dora Milaje, Shuri, T’Challa’s mother Ramonda (Angela Bassett) and a plethora of other background characters that portray mothers, warriors, scientists, and leaders show the world the true power of women, as without these characters, both main, supporting or background, Wakanda, and our male heroes, would be lost.

Black Panther’s cinematography is breath-taking. What strikes you most is the use of colour – the vividness of the Wakandan clothing and technology with the striking earthy tones of Africa’s landscape. The challenge scene between T’Challa and M’Baku perfectly encapsulates this – the bright tribal clothes worn by the leaders and their respective peoples contrast wonderfully with the rocks and waterfalls that surround them and build the sense of a vivid culture and well-built world. Some of the shots that director Ryan Coogler and his director of photography Rachel Morrison work to create leave you awe struck; the initial flight into Wakanda, the boat scene, the waterfall challenge scene, the final sunset and the Jabari village to name a few. You can definitely feel inspiration from films such as Disney’s The Lion King in certain scenes, as well as Spike Lee’s Malcom X and Spielberg’s adaptation of The Colour Purple. Furthermore, the fight choreography was seamless, well-executed and believable as far as the MCU goes, and stylistically adapts itself to each character, to the quickness of T’Challa, M’Baku’s heavy attacks and Killmonger’s preciseness.

The music is perhaps the most significant factor in what makes Black Panther so original. Similarly to Thor: Ragnarok, this film has a unique soundtrack and score in that it disregards the norm of Marvel music, which is heavily traditional orchestration. With Ludwig Goransson’s mix of traditional African tribal and the classic orchestral style of a Marvel movie combined with Kendrick Lamar’s original hip-hop sounds, it makes for a beautiful and powerful experience. The way in which these different styles entwine makes it difficult to remember what came first – the fluidity to the music matches well with the fluidity of the film; the modern is represented with Lamar’s beats, the traditional in the strong tribal vocalisation and percussion, as well as the orchestral strings that underlay most of the soundtrack make for a unique listening experience. The few moments of silence we get in Black Panther are only made more powerful by its almost continuous score; the lack of music rings louder, and only adds emphasis to the tone of the scene. If you haven’t already, I really recommend listening to both the official soundtrack and Kendrick Lamar’s Black Panther album.

As much as I clearly love this film, it isn’t without fault. Like most superhero films of today, the CGI can be janky at times – notably the scenes involving the Black Panther suit. While scenes involving interactions between our main and supporting cast shine, individual scenes suffer as a result, whether it’s that group scenes are so well done that individual ones can’t compare, or that the characters appear flat without other characters to boost them remains to be scene. Some of the writing wobbles and there are a few out of character moments but the script is mostly tight and well put together.

The central focus of this film is one of family and of tradition. Black Panther and T’Challa showcase the importance of family while questioning the place of tradition within modern society. From the clothing and architecture, to the music, and integration of tribal rites and rituals into their modern system of succession and law shows that tradition does indeed have a place within our lives today, though we should never be a slave to the past, and to trust in the importance of the self just as much as we value the importance of our family. 9/10