Black Panther (15)
Running time 1hr 48min
IF nothing else, superhero cinema has demonstrated a delightful capacity for reinvention. Just as a thousand-thousand Avengers run-ups had numbed us to the simple fun of this genre, the riotous Guardians of the Galaxy was conjured out of nowhere to restore our faith in the Caped Ones; Deadpool, likewise, was a wholly more subversive vision than we’d come to expect of these people, chock-full of ink-black comedy and puerile belly laughs. Relatively speaking, Black Panther is a far more conventional, straitlaced (if that’s the right word) comic-book flick than either of those, yet it’s possessed of a revolutionary gusto which, from the get-go, sets it far apart from the crowd in a market saturated with ‘meh’. The challenge, of course, is in taking that auspicious selling point (it’s an anti-Eurocentric superhero movie!) and making hay with it WITHOUT slipping into mediocrity and tedium.
The film, to its credit, bursts from the bush with its claws drawn, more than delivering on its tantalising mission statement.
Stan Lee’s Black Panther comics shook the industry to its foundations with their depictions of international heroism. With race relations once again at the forefront of Western public discourse, this movie version invokes the character’s original spirit while also delivering a radical reinterpretation, aided every step of the way in its endeavour by some show-stopping CGI. The titular hero, T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman), is a prince of the fictitious African nation of Wakanda, a technologically advanced society which has escaped the ravages of colonialism (and neo-colonialism) by slyly playing to Western stereotypes. Even as it gets stuck into some old-fashioned dynastic politics (and some decidedly modern kick-assery), Black Panther never forgets its artfully satirical roots. After the death of his father, T’Challa faces a leadership challenge, brought forth by the spectacularly named Erik Killmonger (Michael B Jordan), an American exile. The latter seeks to usurp Wakanda’s might for the benefit of the wretched of the Earth; T’Challa urges a continuation of their policy of splendid isolation. It’s an infinitely more sophisticated political dilemma than that on offer in your average Marvel actioner, and nothing less than pure popcorn pleasure, to boot.
In fact, Black Panther makes for an extraordinary cultural moment in more ways than one. The carnage is bolstered by a splendid, swaggering Kendrick Lamar soundtrack, boasting some of contemporary hip-hop’s biggest names. Lupita Nyong’o steals the show as Nakia, a female intelligence agent and will-they-or-won’t-they love interest; Forest Whitaker, a veritable cinematic institution, gets billed as a Wakanda elder, while the ever-versatile Andy Serkis, in one of the film’s few white roles, proves a reliably slimy co-antagonist as a South African kingpin determined to rob Wakanda of its natural resources (sound familiar?).
This is populist entertainment at its very best, flooring all recent Marvel efforts hands-down with its dizzying originality, political consciousness, striking visual flair and total accessibility, with Boseman’s exhilarating, exhilaratingly multifaceted performance the cherry on top.