Title: Black Panther
Language: English, Swahili, Nama, Korean, Xhosa
Genre: Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi
Director: Ryan Coogler
Joe Robert Cole
based on the Marvel Comics by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby
Music: Ludwig Göransson
Cinematography: Rachel Morrison
Michael B. Jordan
Sterling K. Brown
Isaach De Bankolé
To view the with-it and all-the-rage BLACK PANTHER’s record-breaking phenomenon through an outside-the-stateside perspective, there is a sadness in our desensitized force-feeding by those ballooning superhero tentpoles whose by-the-numbers narrative, churned out in a rigidly formulaic mode, gingerly cleaves to its comic strip origin, a populist black-or-white world-view and nothing is in the gray area, heck, relative to which, BLACK PANTHER is not an anomaly.
In a fictive African nation Wakanda, which poses as a third-world country but is endowed with cutting-edge technology by virtue of its natural reserves of an omnipotent metal named “vibranium” (the metaphor is self-evident), T’Challa (Boseman) takes over the throne after the death of his father King T’Chaka (John and Atandwa Kani in different time frames), which occurred in CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR (2016), and soon finds himself facing the challenge from Erik “Killmonger” Stevens (Jordan), the son of his uncle N’Jobu (Brown), who is spoiling for avenging his father’s death in the hand of T’Chaka and indeed he successfully dethrones T’Challa in the duel. But, crippled by the time-worn slight of many a villain before him, he pulls his punch in the coup-de-grâce which doesn’t immediately dispatch T’Challa (it pains this reviewer to watch that falling off a cliff never actually kills the protagonist) as audience placidly anticipates the latter to rise like a phoenix from the ashes to recoup his final victory by executing a fratricide just like his father.
However by-the-book the story unfolds and segues, director Ryan Coogler vamps up the film with a scintillating visual-scape which foregrounds the spectacular world-building of Wakanda, drawing on the African land’s exotic scenery and its tribes’ indigenous looks and accoutrements, beautifully marries the tradition with the streamlined futurity, an action piece set in South Korea induces the right dosage of spills and thrills (a step up of virtual reality and driver-less car), and effectually whisks away Martin Freeman’s agent Everett Ross to a place where he can viscerally experience the sticking-out-like-a-sore-thumb otherness, not without self-abasing humor to hit home its message.
Essentially what benefits BLACK PANTHER greatly is the fact that it is woke enough to centralize a cohort of black superheroes and especially cautious to not let its female characters eclipsed below the masculine shadows. Both Danai Gurira’s ballsy virago Okoye and Letitia Wright’s gizmo-savvy princess Shuri are inspirational characters and can-do warriors, which dwarfs Lupita Nyong’o’s Nakia into awkwardly comporting herself within a more conventional love interest cubbyhole. With that in mind, then it appears there is a crying shame to leave a geared-up Queen Mother Ramonda (Angela Bassett) out of the battle completely, an imposing Bassett shouldn’t be all toned up just to fit the garment, maybe ageism is next-in-line as the genre’s bullet-point obstacle, considering elderly folks in the comic books rarely live to a privileged death of natural cause (including a venerated Forest Whitaker here to extract empathy).
Chadwick Boseman makes for a very fine hero, majestic in stance and feline in motion, Michael B. Jordan, on the other hand, has a more naturally hunky stature and finishes off the antagonistic job with spanking commitment. Only, this reviewer has to quibble about their final smackdown, and floats a comparison with the climatic fistfight adjacent to a zippily streaking train in Wong Kar-Wai’s THE GRANDMASTER (2013), for all its kinetic momentum, is the former a homage to the latter, or a less enlivening show piece that doesn’t necessarily live up to all the awesomeness preceding it? Either case, “don’t believe the hype” is always the ultimate maxim any film lover should religiously abide by.