Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Review: "Black Panther" is the Best Marvel Movie... Best Superhero Movie... Best Comic Book Movie

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 4 (of 2018) by Leroy Douresseaux

[This review was originally posted on Patreon.]

Black Panther (2018)
Running time:  134 minutes (2 hours, 14 minutes)
MPAA – PG-13 for prolonged sequences of action violence, and a brief rude gesture
DIRECTOR:  Ryan Coogler
WRITERS:  Ryan Coogler and Joe Robert Cole (based on the Marvel Comics character created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby)
PRODUCER: Kevin Feige (p.g.a.)
CINEMATOGRAPHER:  Rachel Morrison (D.o.P.)
EDITORS:  Debbie Berman and  Michael P. Shawver
COMPOSER:  Ludwig Göransson


Starring:  Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong'o, Danai Gurira, Martin Freeman, Daniel Kaluuya, Letitia Wright, Winston Duke, Sterling K. Brown, Angela Bassett, Forest Whitaker, Andy Serkis, Florence Kasumba, John Kani, David S. Lee, Nabiyah Be, and Stan Lee

Black Panther is a 2018 superhero and science fiction movie directed by Ryan Coogler and produced by Marvel Studios.  The film is based on the Marvel Comics character, Black Panther, that first appeared in Fantastic Four #52 (cover dated: July 1966) and was created by writer Stan Lee and artist Jack Kirby.  Black Panther the movie follows a new king of a secretive and isolated African nation as he tries to guide his nation into the future while dealing with dark secrets from it past.

Black Panther opens after the events depicted in the film Captain America: Civil War (2016).  Prince T'Challa (Chadwick Boseman) is returning to his home, the (fictional) African nation of Wakanda, after the death of his father, T'Chaka (John Kani), in order to assume the throne.  The throne comes with a role – the mantle of the “Black Panther,” protector of Wakanda.  Accompanying him are Okoye (Danai Gurira), the leader of the Dora Milaje, a fighting force and the King of Wakanda's personal guard; and also T'Challa's ex-lover, Nakia (Lupita Nyong'o), who is a Wakandan spy. T'Challa arrives home to meet his mother, Ramonda (Angela Bassett) and his younger sister, Shuri (Letitia Wright), as they prepare for the coronation ceremony.

First, T'Challa must face a challenge of ritual combat for the crown from M'Baku (Winston Duke), the leader of an estranged Wakandan tribe.  However, T'Challa will face even greater challenges, specifically in the form of Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis), a South African black-market arms dealer, smuggler and gangster who wants to possess Wakanda's greatest asset, the rare alien metal, “Vibranium,” of which Wakanda is the only source on Earth.  Even more troubling is Klaue's compatriot, Erik Stevens (Michael B. Jordan).  A former United States “black operations” soldier also known as “Killmonger,” Erik has a shocking connection to T'Challa and Wakanda's past that may put both the African nation and the rest of the world in peril.

When Stan Lee and Jack Kirby created the Black Panther for Marvel Comics over 50 years ago, they conceived a Black man as a king, a warrior, a protector, an inventor, and as a superhero.  As African-American comic book writers like Dwayne McDuffie, Christopher Priest, Reginald Hudlin, and Ta-Nehisi Coates over the last three decades started writing the character, they began to flesh out and to add to what Lee and Kirby and the comics creators that followed them in the 1970s did with the character.  Thus, co-writer/director Ryan Coogler and co-writer Joe Robert Cole had a wealth of source material from which to fashion their screen adaptation of one of the most historically important superhero characters of all time.

Coogler and Cole turn that wealth into the best film based on a Marvel Comics character and the best movie based on a comic book to date.  In fact, Black Panther is the best superhero movie to date.  It is a brooding drama that is intelligent and socially, politically, and historically relevant, especially in regards to the continent of Africa, to Black Africans, to the trade of African slaves to the Americas, and to the history of Africans and African-Americans over the last five centuries.  Basically, Black Panther is a superhero movie and a big-budget, big studio event movie that is steeped in all things Pan African.

Yet Black Panther is so shockingly entertaining.  The film deals in such themes as how the sins of a leader can reverberate through generations of his people (even his people who live outside his kingdom), yet Black Panther manages to be a visually striking and imaginative science fiction and superhero fantasy.  Even more surprisingly, Black Panther not only finds the heroism in its male protagonist (T'Challa-Black Panther), but also in his female compatriots:  the brave and bold Okoye and her fearsome charges in the Dora Milaje; Nakia the “War Dog” (spy), who is as sharp as James Bond; and Shuri, the genius inventor like no other genius inventor.  This movie does not even slight its antagonist; Killmonger has legitimate beef with Wakanda and its ways.  He is right; Africans and the people of the diaspora would have been better off if an African nation possessing super science had used their technological advances to make (White) oppressors bow down and surrender.

Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong'o, Danai Gurira, and Letitia Wright give bravura performances.  It is not just their acting, however; it is also in the kind of characters they bring to life.  These five actors and the rest of the cast give us cinematic characters as people of color who are not victims to be saved or people that are problems for other people.

These actors and filmmakers present a narrative where heroism and technology define the characters.  American cinema has been filled with African-Americans and people of color as slaves, runaway slaves, scared slaves, servants, coons, criminals, pimps, mammies, and the shiftless and the unemployed.  And damn, often they actors playing such characters have to play them as dignified.  Finally, Black Panther presents a sparkling, wondrous, rich mix of African tribalism, history, and art and culture; a mix of limitless possibilities; an Afro-Futurism that is so bright, we have to wear shades.  That is uplifting, and you know what?  That's entertaining.

10 of 10

Friday, February 23, 2018

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