There was a joke on the internet the other day that made me laugh and laugh. Virtually the only white people in “Black Panther” are the Hobbit/LOTR stars Martin Freeman and Andy Serkis…. they are the Tolkein white guys! It’s actually getting to feel quite isolating as an ‘average white guy’ at the movies! After a plethora of #SheDo films about empowered women, now comes the first black-centred Marvel film… stuffed full of powerful women too!
The setting is the hidden African kingdom of Wakanda, where due to an abundance of a an all-powerful mineral called McGuffinite… so, sorry, Vibranium… the leaders have made their city a technological marvel and developed all sorts of ad tech to help the people keep their goats well and weave their baskets better (there are a few odd scenes in this film!). T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) succeeds his father T’Chaka (John Kani) to become the king and adopt the role of The Black Panther, being bestowed superhero powers by drinking a glass of Ribena.
But it emerges that T’Chaka has a dark secret in the form of Eric Killmonger (Michael B Jordan, “Creed“) who is determined to muscle in on the king-stuff. ‘It never rains but it pours’, and the whole of Wakanda’s secrets are in danger of being exposed by the antics of the vicious South African mercenary Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis, “War For The Planet Of The Apes“), trying to get his hands on vibranium to sell on to CIA operative Everett Ross (Martin Freeman, “The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies“, “The World’s End“).
After “Thor: Ragnarok“, this is back to the more seriously-played end of the superhero spectrum: there are a few jokes but it’s not overtly played for comedy. Holding the film together are some sterling performances from the ensemble cast with Michael B Jordan very good as the villain of the piece. Adding to the significant black girl power in the film are Angela Bassett (“London Has Fallen“) as the queen mother; Danai Gurira (“Wonder Woman“) as the leader of the Dora Milaje: the all-female king’s guard; and Lupita Nyong’o (“12 Years a Slave“, “Star Wars: The Force Awakens“) as the spy and love interest Nakia. But the star performance for me, and one I found absolutely spot-on as a role model for young people, was Letitia Wright (“The Commuter“) as Shuri, the king’s chief scientist. She is absolutely radiant, adding beauty, rude gestures and energy to every scene she is in.
Man of the moment Daniel Kaluuya (“Get Out“) also adds to his movie-cred as a conflicted courtier.
On the white side of the shop Andy Serkis has enormous fun as Klaue and I really wanted to see more of his character than I did. Martin Freeman feels rather lightweight and under-used, and I couldn’t quite get past his dodgy American accent.
In terms of storyline, the film is a hotch-potch of plots from multiple other films, with “The Lion King” featuring strongly (but almost in reverse!). But that’s no crime, when the Shakespearean-style narrative is good, and interpolating the strongly emotional story into the Marvel universe works well.
Where I felt a little uncomfortable is the element of racism – that is, racism *against* white people – reflected in the story. If there was a movie plot centred (basically) on the topic of whites killing blacks and taking control of every black-controlled country in the world (yes, I know, I’m British and we have historically been there!) then there would be justified uproar, and the film would be shunned.
In the technical department, I had real problems with some of the effects employed. Starting with a dodgy ‘aircraft’ shadow, things nose-dive with an astonishingly poor waterfall scene with Forest Whitaker (“Rogue One“, “Arrival“) as Zuri, green-screened against some Disneyworld cascades and hundreds of cut and pasted tribesmen randomly inserted onto the cliffs. Almost matching that is a studio-set scene in a jungle clearing, where if feels they could hardly have bothered to take the plants out of their pots. Think “Daktari” quality (kids, ask your parents/grandparents).
But overall, the film, directed by Ryan Coogler (“Creed“), is a high-energy and uniquely different take on Marvel that absolutely pays off. And it is without doubt an important movie in moving the black agenda forward into properly mainstream cinema.
Fad Rating: FFFf.