Tuesday 20 February 2018

Black Panther

Wakanda Man Is He?

Black Panther
2018 USA Directed by Ryan Coogler
UK cinema release print.

Black Panther is the latest in the chain-linked Marvel Cinematic Universe movies which have set modern cinematic trends on fire since the debut of the first Iron Man film. It carries on directly from story and character elements set up in both Avengers - Age Of Ultron (reviewed here) and Captain America - Civil War (reviewed here).

Now, I’m not a big Black Panther comic book fan, truth be told. I remember I used to draw him occasionally as a kid (like most of the Marvel and DC superheroes) but I never really had any of his stand alone appearances... just the odd appearance in a hardback UK british Marvel annual or Marvel Treasury edition guesting in other heroes' stories. So, in terms of the comic book roots for this film, I can’t really talk with any authority.

I do, however, remember Klaw (aka Ulysses Klau) and was really stoked when he turned up in Age Of Ultron, portrayed by Andy Serkis, because I wanted to see him in the colourful costume and with the ‘sonic claw’ he used to wear on his arm. Alas, my biggest disappointment with this movie is that, although Serkis once again shows up to do the honours, I felt he was a really under utilised character and, alas, doesn’t have either the costume or that big metal stump  with the sonic antenna sticking out of it... which is a shame. I had further disappointment with this character’s arc here too... used as a bit of a plot point rather than a character in his own right... but I can’t say too much here because I want this review to be spoiler free.

As it happens though, in spite of this, Black Panther is actually pretty good and certainly holds its own with a fair amount of the MCU movies over the years. And in terms of art direction... well in that respect it’s probably the best of the current Marvel movies... at least in a visual sense.

The film has good performances all around and that helps a lot for a movie with not many ties to the other films being present in the flesh, so to speak. Chadwick Boseman really seems to have grown into the role fairly quickly and he has some of the humour which the character was missing in Captain America - Civil War. Which is not surprising since his involvement in that movie came from his reaction to the death of his father. Martin Freeman returns here too, as the CIA agent he played in Civil War and he is also a heck of a lot more palatable this time around with him taking a more heroic role... though having an American accent coming out of his mouth is still just plain wrong and sounds quite terrible. Lupita Lupita Nyong'o, Letitia Wright, Angela Bassett, Daniel Kaluuya and Forest Whitaker are all, as expected, strong in their varies supporting roles and, I have to say, Michael B. Jordan as the villanous Killmonger is quite striking, both in presence and appearance here.

Okay. So there’s a lot of good stuff here with an almost ‘international espionage’ tone to some of the scenes (my favourite part of the movie was the ‘incident’ set in a casino in Busan) and the action is as competently handled as well as it is in all the other Marvel movies of recent years. That being said, in a movie which is pretty entertaining a lot of the time, I did have a few little grumbles with it.

Okay, so my main problem was that it was quite repetitive all the way through. You have three (technically) combat challenge scenes, three spirit journey scenes and the whole thing kept feeling like... "Didn’t I see this stuff enough earlier in the movie?" I take the point that most Marvel movies like this are somewhat formulaic in that they are ‘battle - pause - battle - pause - battle - pause’ movies but I just felt the types of situations which presented these conflicts could have been a little more varied in the execution. This is maybe, partially, due to the fact that the film doesn’t ‘globe hop’ as much as some of the others (most of it is set in the fictional country of Wakanda) and... I dunno... it just got a bit ‘samey’ after a while.

The only other problem I have with it is in the continuity of the Black Panther character in relation to his other appearance. We saw in Captain America - Civil War how he failed to stop the murder of his father and then took over the mantle of Black Panther. However, it turns out he doesn’t get his ‘panther powers’ bestowed on him - by the ingestion of a specific herb - until this part of the story, set after those events from the former film. So are we saying the version of the character in that one was not operating at optimum strength? Especially when, to be honest, I couldn’t see much (if any) difference between that version of the character and this one? I either didn’t understand something or there was some sloppy writing in here. Not sure which, to be honest.

These are all fairly minor grumbles though and there’s a lot of good stuff to make up for it.

I said the film has the best art direction of any of the MCU films to date and the colours utilised throughout are fantastic. I loved the clashes of the red costumes of the king’s personal guard against the various sets/locations and there are some amazing, probably artifically enhanced, skies in this film. It’s really nice to look at and marks this director out as someone to watch, I think.

It also has a really nice score by Ludwig Göransson but I’m really unhappy that, just like another MCU film Guardians Of The Galaxy 2 (reviewed here), the powers that be have not seen fit to issue a CD release of this one... instead going down the incredibly stupid ‘download’ route. Way to exclude the soundtrack listeners who wanted to purchase this thing people! This practice should be outlawed.

So there you have it. A pretty cool film. I don’t think it deserves all the unbelievable hype it seems to be getting and, frankly, it’s no Wonder Woman (reviewed here) but it is a pretty good entry in the series and it certainly doesn’t let the other movies down... although I didn’t like it as much as some of the others from the last couple of years of the ongoing saga, truth be told. It does have a certain power though and brings, again, a slightly different feel to the Marvel Cinematic Universe which will be useful in future crossovers... the next one being the big Avengers - Infinity War film in two months time. With regards to that, this film has two post credits scenes... one in the middle and one right at the end so, you know, you might want to stick around for those two. A certain character makes an appearance in the second of these who I was expecting to turn up in the main body of the movie properly and lend a hand, given the set up in a previous film but... oh well, at least he’s in here.

If you are a lover of the Marvel superhero movies then Black Panther is a little different and definitely one to have a look at... especially if you want to know what’s going on for the next one. Definitely give this one a go if this is your thing. A solid entry in the ongoing Marvel juggernaut.

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