“Black Panther” is a visually stunning marvel with a stellar cast that elevates an uninspired script.
The film follows the newly crowned king and superhero T’Challa as he returns home to Wakanda and is thrust into conflict with a foe who threatens his homeland.
Rachel Morrison’s cinematography, Ruth Carter’s costumes and Jay Hart’s sets illustrate the stunning fictional African country of Wakanda with vivid colors and lush settings, creating an aesthetic that marries futuristic technology with a traditional African feel.
Each of Hart’s sets is visually interesting and adds details that beautifully flesh out the world of the film. Carter, whose past credits include period dramas such as “Selma” and goofy comedies like “Daddy Day Care” effortlessly dives into the superhero genre, making some of Marvel’s best dressed characters.
The film is worth watching for the visuals alone, as nearly every frame is a tapestry of beauty and detail that enhances both the story and the aesthetic enjoyment of the movie. Ryan Coogler’s third directorial effort is as much a political drama as it is a superhero blockbuster, as characters debate foreign aid and open borders in one scene and fly off to do battle in the next.
Ultimately, the key flaw of “Black Panther” is its determination to control how the audience feels in every frame rather than allowing the members of the audience to interpret the film themselves. This spoon-feeding makes the film feel like more of a lecture by the writers than a political action movie.
As the hero is an African prince raised in Wakanda and the villain is an African-American soldier raised in Oakland, Calif., topics of racism, colonialism and a wealthy nation’s place in the world feature prominently. There is no chance that viewers will leave the film unaware of its messages and intentions, as characters discuss their motivations and political agendas in a blunt, unrealistic manner.
In one scene, a character states that rather than face imprisonment, he would prefer to be killed and buried at sea in the manner of slaves jumping from ships, as “death is better than bondage.” While the sentiment is undeniably powerful, the line itself makes little sense in context and was clearly inserted solely for the audience’s benefit.
Such dialogue, which sounds more like the writers’ notes of what they wish to convey than actual conversation, is prevalent. The audience is smarter than Coogler appears to believe, and the narrative does not need to be interrupted for the central themes to come across — the story does a fine job of conveying these on its own.
Chadwick Boseman is strong and commanding as the young king and superhero, T’Challa, and brings heart and hesitation to the role of a young man saddled with the responsibility of running a country long before expected.
Boseman, known for playing talented black men who overcome prejudices with the sheer force of their ability, including Jackie Robinson in “42,” has a mix of affability and determination that makes him a strong lead.
Lupita Nyong’o and Danai Gurira have an easy chemistry as friends and fellow warriors Nakia and Okoye, respectively. The warmth and openness that Nyong’o brings to her role complements the focus and grit of Gurira, highlighting the difference in their jobs: Nakia primarily works outside of Wakanda to help oppressed peoples around the world while Okoye remains within the borders, protecting the office of the monarch and whomever sits on the throne.
Nyong’o and Boseman also effectively capture the awkward affection between Nakia and T’Challa, ex-lovers whose relationship ended not because of lack of love but rather because of rather challenging circumstances.
Another notable character is Martin Freeman as CIA agent Everett Ross, who provides an endearing comedic foil to Boseman’s T’Challa. An outsider to Wakanda, Ross also serves as an audience surrogate, learning about the world alongside the viewers.
In a cast filled with strong performances, the standout is Michael B. Jordan, who gives a nuanced performance as the villain, Erik Killmonger. Killmonger is a far cry from the charming down-on-his-luck but good-at-heart roles that Jordan typically gravitates to, such as his role in “The Wire.” Yet, Jordan vacillates effortlessly between sympathetic — albeit misaligned — to monstrous and irredeemable.
The action scenes in “Black Panther” are Marvel’s typically fun but overcut battles in which the camera never stays on one action for more than a second before cutting to another angle. In one battle, which takes place in an underground casino, a long shot showed Okoye batting a series of assailants in front of a near-stationary camera before the camera panned to Nakia fighting other enemies alongside T’Challa. The viewer can actually see the fight, which raises the stakes immensely and makes it all the more disappointing when this technique is never revisited.
“Black Panther” proves to be a welcome addition to the ever-expanding Marvel Cinematic Universe, and fans of Disney’s juggernaut superhero franchise will thoroughly enjoy this trip to Wakanda. However, even non-Marvel fans who appreciate socially conscious, politically relevant and genre-transgressing films such as “Get Out” will find themselves inspired — unless they feel lectured.