By Andrew Cripe, Movie Critic
Savor this moment. This is not a Marvel film advertising other Marvel films. This is not a superhero film cluttered with an abundance of other superheros. This is not a generically performed, relentlessly computer-animated, nauseously filmed blockbuster. This is the real deal. “Black Panther” is the film you should be watching right now.
Ryan Coogler, director of the powerful ‘Fruitvale Station’ (2013) and the phenomenal ‘Creed’ (2015), brings ‘Black Panther’ to the big screen with endless excitement, gorgeous cinematography, and triumphant power. Instead of depending on other Avengers, ‘Black Panther’ assembles its own group of badass, thrilling heroes, moving so far away from the Marvel Cinematic Universe that it stands as refreshingly, wonderfully independent.
Chadwick Boseman, who got his breakout role in ‘42’ (2013) playing baseball legend Jackie Robinson, brings exceptional control and might to King T’Challa, ruler of Wakanda, a fictional, futuristic land hidden away in Africa. Wakanda is joyously, intricately brought to life by Rachel Morrison’s cinematography, who recently made history by becoming the first woman to be nominated for the Best Cinematography Oscar for ‘Mudbound’ (2017).
Simply watching Wakanda exist is to indulge in an almost therapeutic visual poetry. Never before has a Marvel film cared so much about an environment. But when Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan), a figure from the previous King’s shameful past, reappears looking for retribution, Wakanda is thrown into disarray.
You won’t realize until you start watching ‘Black Panther’ how starved you have been for a superhero movie that isn’t counting on you to have watched a dozen other superhero movies. Right from jump street ‘Black Panther’ goes its own way, carving out a story riddled with intrigue, heartbreak, tradition, culture, and probably the best action scenes Marvel Studios have yet produced.
Uniformly, every performance is unique and original. Boseman first appeared as Black Panther in 2016’s ‘Captain America: Civil War,’ and his second outing doesn’t disappoint, bringing a much desired vulnerability and compassion to the MCU’s roster of usually stern, naive heroes who just want to punch stuff until it explodes.
As his little sister, Princess Shuri, Letitia Wright supplies the film with genuinely funny moments and exposition into how Wakanda functions as such a clandestine megapower in technology.
Everyone else is also at the top of their game, as Lupita Nyong’o, Forest Whitaker, Angela Bassett, Andy Serkis, and Martin Freeman all nail their roles. But possibly the standout of the film is Michael B. Jordan, who proved in Coogler’s last two films that he is one of the most promising young actors currently in Hollywood, and here only cements that as an undeniable fact. Killmonger is, unquestionably, the most sympathetic and deftly developed villain in the MCU. He is mind-blowingly good, and dominates the film whenever he’s on screen.
Of all the Marvel films this critic has seen, “Black Panther” is the only one that seems to have an uninterrupted directorial vision. Coogler’s artistry has a flow that isn’t disturbed by studios constantly reminding him to advertise the next cycle of films. Everything about this film is bursting with creative, emotional, and purely cinematic freedom.
This is the first movie since 1998’s “Blade” to have a black superhero as its main character, and one of the first Blockbusters to have a principally black cast, period. That is has taken so long for audiences to get a film like this is shameful, and the exhilarating success of Coogler’s film is bound to remind Hollywood how much talent and potential they have been smothering for decades. “Black Panther” is a freight-train reminder that Hollywood’s devotion to the old-way of filmmaking won’t cut it any longer. Audiences want diversity. They want to see the talent that, for so many generations, has been neglected by a studio system which desperately clings to the belief that only familiar white faces will sell tickets.
“Black Panther” is the sort of sledgehammer success that has potential to change Hollywood as we know it. It isn’t just recommended, it is necessary.