Monday, February 19, 2018

[Review] Black Panther

After helming the devastatingly raw indie film Fruitvale Station and the sensational Rocky spinoff Creed, director Ryan Coogler has now taken his talents to Marvel with the massively-hyped blockbuster that is Black Panther. And what he's crafted here is a sharp, awe-inspiring, and thoughtful fist-pumper, as well as a straight-up fun superhero movie with a significantly strong sense of identity and culture.

Welcome to Wakanda, a beautiful and highly advanced African nation that's hidden away from the rest of the universe. Ruling the kingdom is T'Challa aka Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), who first appeared in Captain America: Civil War. His country happens to be home to a powerful metal called vibranium, and the status quo is threatened when a pair of antagonists want to get their hands on it. One is a wily crime-lord played by Andy Serkis (known for his brilliant motion capture performances), and the other is a vengeful character who goes by Killmonger (played by Coogler's frequent stalwart, Michael B. Jordan).

The penchant for world-building is astounding here. Wakanda's geography sprawls with picturesque plains, mountains, townships, and sci-fi stations -- it's to the point where it would be cool to navigate a virtual map of the place. What also pops is the colorful costumes and exquisite production design. The vivid, tribal-infused aesthetic is wonderfully shot, and the visuals are steeped in tradition as much as they are stunningly futurist. And it's just nice to finally get to know more about who Black Panther is and where he comes from. His character is representative of inner and outer strength -- with or without the armor. And it's all about what type of king he wants to be in a conflict-driven narrative. Boseman is a stoic and charismatic lead, but the true scene-stealers are his slick warrior women standbys Nakia (Lupita Nyong'o) and Okoye (Danai Gurira), as well as his spunky younger sister Shuri (Letitia Wright) who leads Wakanda's technology and innovation headquarters, and she also delivers some of the script's funniest lines ("WHAT ARE THOSE?!"). Yes -- even with all the film's high stakes and operatic gusto, the open tone allows for a decent amount of humor and amusing spectacle along the way (there's even a joke about mixtapes and Soundcloud!).

And then there's Michael B. Jordan's Killmonger, rendering himself as the best MCU villain to date (and he has the best haircut, too). Not only is he absolutely ruthless, but he also possesses a certain level of depth and a notably well fleshed-out backstory, and I mean that in more ways than one -- his history is physically branded on the skin. The rest of the supporting cast is stacked too, including the likes of Angela Bassett, Forest Whitaker, Daniel Kaluuya (Get Out), and Sterling K. Brown ("This Is Us").

Like you'd expect from any Marvel movie, Black Panther is packed with thrilling setpieces -- from the splashy combat scenes on the waterfall's edge, to the crazy car chases and shootout sequences in the neon-lit streets of Busan, South Korea (this scene might make the Fast and the Furious movies a bit jealous). There are even some big, charging field battles that feel reminiscent of Lord of the Rings (I mean, Andy Serkis and Martin Freeman are both here).

Black Panther is a thoroughly prideful and entertaining journey that you don't want to end. It's one that's worth seeing multiple times in theaters, and it's worth raving about. It's worth celebrating.

* 9/10 *

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