Black Panther - 2018
Director(s): Ryan Coogler
Writer(s): Ryan Coogler and Joe Robert Cole (screenplay)
Cinematography by: Rachel Morrison
Editor(s): Debbie Berman and Michael P. Shawver
Cast: Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Daniel Kaluuya, Letitia Wright, Winston Duke, Angela Bassett, Forest Whitaker, Andy Serkis, Sterling K. Brown, John Kani and Martin Freeman
Synopsis: T'Challa, after the death of his father, the King of Wakanda, returns home to the isolated, technologically advanced African nation to succeed to the throne and take his rightful place as king (IMDB).
This movie was high up on my list of “2018 – most anticipated movies”. Part because Black Panther’s lore has a lot of potential in the cinematic universe, and part the immense talent behind and in front of the camera. Every time a casting announcement came out regarding this movie, the hype around it grew even more. Also, director Ryan Coogler was coming off his massive 2015 hit, Creed, and was ready to take over a super hero franchise and just like last year in Taika Waititi (Thor) I knew he was going to bring his own unique voice to the Marvel formula. Now after watching it, I can say it met my expectations and gave me something I didn’t think I was missing: perspective.
There is a cliché phrase we use a lot in our society: “My dad is my Superman”. I know I said it a lot in my lifetime. Despite being of Puerto Rican decent, I have a light skin tone that makes it easier for me to see myself and my father in a character like Superman. I also identified with him coming from another planet and falling in love with the people in his new planet, as I have with Cincinnati. But, sitting in that theater with my wife something dawned on me as I saw predominantly black families walking in. I saw fathers and mother walking in with their kids all excited. Their parents proud that they brought their kids to the first screening they could find. Because after today, those kids will be able to say: “My dad is my Black Panther” and that’s something I have taken for granted all my life. That’s awesome and I hope we continue down this path.
Ok, let’s talk about the movie.
Coogler and Joe Robert Cole wrote a wonderful script focusing on a lot of themes that elevated the movie past your typical superhero movie. Themes of family and destiny and how our idols are just as flawed as we are. That we are haunted by the lies and actions we hide from our loved ones. The script also gave us a villain with one of the best and easily relatable motivations. I completely understood why he went down the path he went and how it changed his outlook on life. Despite it following a little bit of the formula we have come to know in a superhero movie, it helps that the core message and delivery was refreshingly new. It managed to be funny, exciting and full of heart.
Coogler continues to elevate his talent behind the camera. He showcased his eye for dramatic tension in his debut, Fruitvale Station. He combined his eye for drama and showcased he can shoot action in his follow up, Creed. Now he just put on a show for us in Black Panther. The action set pieces are just so much fun. My favorite is probably the casino in South Korea. His use of camera movement puts the audience right in the middle of the action and never lets us rest within the set piece. It flowed from character to character seamlessly and we never lost track as to where we were and how we got there. The car chase that followed also is up there for me.
Quick note: the soundtrack and score is pitch perfect. The combination of hip-hop, R&B and African drums added to the unique feel of the movie and made me at times forget this was a Marvel movie.
Almost every great director needs a great cinematographer. In comes Rachel Morrison, who became the first woman to be nominated for an Oscar for her work in Mudbound. I love how this movie is shot. It’s jam packed with vibrant colors that further accentuate how vastly different the world of Wakanda is to the rest of the MCU. A huge part of this was the costume design, especially for the women as they are dressed in red, making them stand out in the battle sequences. Again, my favorite is the casino action set piece. Here Okoye, played by Danai Gurira, is wearing a beautiful red gown. When the action starts she stands out both because she is an incredible fighter and because her dress just immediately draws your eyes to her in a very visually pleasing way. Also, every time T’Challa, played by Chadwick Boseman, spoke to his father, it looked amazing. The purple sky is just beautiful.
This is a huge cast so I want to give at least one sentence to each one. Chawick Boseman is a king in this movie and perfectly plays the lead. Michael B. Jordan is a complex villain with a great line delivery that manages to be intimidating yet endearing. Lupita Nyong’o is beautiful and strong, giving Boseman a great stabilizer. Danai Gurira continues to prove she is a certified badass and is very funny as well. Daniel Kaluuya doesn’t need a single line as his eyes tell you everything you need to know. Letitia Wright is hilarious and will be a role model for young girls. Winston Duke is a great antagonist and one of the stand outs of the movie. Angela Bassett is a queen; she deserves more roles. Forest Whitaker is wonderful and helps bring weight to the events of the past. Andy Serkis had a blast not having the mocap suit on and is a great villain. Sterling K. Brown had a limited role but still brought gravitas to it. John Kani is flawed and complex but his love shines through. Martin Freeman is funny and a great connection to the outside world.
Black Panther honestly delivered on all fronts. Yes, its formulaic. Yes, there is a lot of CGI and sometimes it doesn’t look the best. But it is far above many superhero movies as it gives heart and weight to all the actions taken. Everything has a purpose and a reason. You are not watching mindless action for the sake of shoving popcorn in your mouth. You connect with every character and understand their motivation and how they got to that point in their lives. Coogler hasn’t missed one yet and I look forward to anything else he wants to do. Black Panther is why I love movies.
Black Panther is currently playing in theaters. This is must watch.
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