“Black Panther”, the latest superhero movie from the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) franchise, is quite different from those usual blockbuster products from the MCU franchise. Not only just entertaining but also very distinctive in many aspects, the movie distinguishes itself a lot from many other recent superhero movies, and it definitely brings lots of fresh air to its genre as “Logan” (2017) and “Wonder Woman” (2017) did in last year.
In the beginning, we get two prologue scenes, and the first one is about the foundation of Wakanda, a country located somewhere in the middle of Africa. Many million years ago, a big meteor containing an alien metal called vibranium fell right into the land of Wakanda, and five tribes fought with each other over the control of that special metal, but then there came a warrior who gained superpowers after ingesting a special herb containing vibranium. Under his leadership, the five tribes united together to form their kingdom, and he became their first ‘Black Panther’.
After the second prologue scene set in Oakland, California in 1992, the movie moves forward to the point not long after what happened in “Captain America: Civil War” (2016). Because of the sudden unfortunate death of King T’Chaka (John Kani) in that movie, his son T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) goes back to his country for his official succession, and we come to see more of Wakanda. While disguising itself as one of the poorest Third World nations in the world, Wakanda is in fact a powerful country which has been equipped with highly advanced technologies thanks to vibranium, and that aspect is exemplified well by a slick technology laboratory operated by T’Challa’s plucky sister Shuri (Letitia Wright), who is eager to provide more technological improvement for her brother’s Black Panther suit.
After his official succession is completed, things look stable again in Wakanda, but, of course, there soon comes a trouble to draw the attention of T’Challa and others around him. A mercenary named Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis), who has a bad history with Wakanda, attempts to sell a certain precious object in Busan, South Korea, so T’Challa promptly go to Busan along with Okoye (Danai Gurira) and Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o). I must tell you that I and other South Korean audiences were amused to see these characters walking around in the busy marketplace area of Busan, and I was also excited to see the subsequent vehicle action sequence which is spectacularly unfolded on the streets and alleys of Busan.
Anyway, the main villain of the movie turns out to be a guy named Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan), and this ambitious and ruthless character wants to take away Wakanda from T’Challa for not only an old personal reason but also his radical political belief. His clash with T’Challa is presented as a battle of wills and ideas instead of a run-of-the-mill showdown between good and evil, and Jordan, who previously collaborated with director/co-writer Ryan Coogler in “Fruitvale Station” (2013) and “Creed” (2015), is intense and charismatic as a proud, formidable opponent for our hero.
What follows next may be a bit predictable, the screenplay written by Coogler and his co-writer Joe Robert Cole, keeps its plot rolling as providing enough personality and entertainment to engage us, and we actually come to care about what is being at stake for its characters. Yes, the movie indeed culminates to a big action climax during its last act just like other countless superhero films, but it is still driven by story and characters nonetheless, and we get an unexpectedly reflective emotional moment as our hero eventually arrives at the end of his struggle.
In terms of mood and style, the movie looks bright and wonderful thanks to cinematographer Rachel Morrison, who recently garnered an Oscar nomination for her supreme work in “Mudbound” (2017). Production designer Hannah Beachler and costume designer Ruth E. Carter fill the screen with myriad details to be appreciated, and I observed these details with curiosity even though I was well aware of many unrealistic aspects of Wakanda (Don’t they need many other things besides vibranium for developing such highly advanced technologies as shown in the film?).
The main cast of the movie is fantastic on the whole. As the title character of the movie, Chadwick Boseman, who has steadily advanced since his breakthrough turn in “42” (2013), is solid and commanding in his strong performance, and he is ably supported by Jordan and other talented performers. While Angela Basset and Forest Whitaker are dependable as usual, Lupita Nyong’o, Letitia Wright, and Danai Gurira are striking in their respective roles, and I also enjoyed the good supporting performances from Daniel Kaluuya, John Kani, Andy Serkis, Winston Duke, Sterling K. Brown, and Martin Freeman, who plays a CIA agent who comes to function as an accidental sidekick for T’Challa and his comrades.
After the considerable critical success of his first feature film “Fruitvale Station”, Coogler advanced further with his next feature film “Creed”, and “Black Panther” confirms to us again that he is a distinguished filmmaker to watch. Like “Creed”, “Black Panther” successfully galvanizes its franchise with fresh new elements, and I hope the MCU franchise will learn a lesson from this rousing success.