Black Panther

 

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The eighteenth chapter in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is a daring if tortuous and uneven affair.

 

Black Panther

Lupita Nyong'o looks on in alarm

 

Chadwick Boseman made his name playing Jackie Robinson in 42 (2013), James Brown in Get on Up (2014) and Thurgood Marshall, the first African-American justice of the Supreme Court, in Marshall (2017). He also played T'Challa – aka Black Panther – in Captain America: Civil War (2016). Now he’s reprising his role as Black Panther in the film of the same name, the eighteenth chapter in the so-called Marvel Cinematic Universe. For Boseman, it’s been quite a trajectory. Unfortunately, as a character, T'Challa is not given much opportunity to register as he’s engulfed by a slew of co-stars, endless CGI and one damned fight after another. So, more of the same, then.

 

Black Panther is being touted as something of a Hollywood milestone, as it is the first superhero movie with a predominantly black cast. But since Marvel’s Iron Man in 2008, these films are no longer marvellous, nor their special effects that special. In fact, much of the CGI in Black Panther is decidedly ropy, particularly when compared to the visual miracles of Blade Runner 2049 and Star Wars: The Last Jedi.

 

The film does start promisingly, though. The backstory of T'Challa and Wakanda, his East African kingdom, is recounted in a striking prologue animated by what looks like iron filings. Then we cut to modern-day California and things start to go downhill. On the death of his father, T'Challa is called back to Wakanda to ascend the throne. However, he quickly discovers that there are enemies within. In fact, there’s a whole bunch of nemeses and it’s hard to keep track as, in magical manifestations, they turn up on screen without so much as a by-your-leave. This really does detract from the drama as it all begins to resemble a series of VR video games in which anything can happen, just so long as it serves the plot.

 

Wakanda itself is an independent nation that clings to its ancient culture while exploiting its advanced technology. It’s like Silicon Valley on safari, powered by the arcane properties of vibranium, a metal that increases its strength by absorbing sound waves, vibrations and kinetic energy. It certainly provides a nifty suit for our hero – but it also prompts a gold rush from unsavoury quarters.

 

While one should embrace Black Panther as further evidence of the diversification of Hollywood, there is also an uncomfortable feeling of the Disneyfication of Africa. The director, Ryan Coogler, is African-American, the cast is predominantly American and British and the authors of the original comic strip – Stan Lee and the late Jack Kirby – both white American men born in New York. Besides, the film was shot in Atlanta, South Korea and Argentina. However, what is impressive about Black Panther is the predominance of strong female characters, headed by Nakia, the Black Panther’s ex-squeeze, played by the Kenyan actress Lupita Nyong'o. She is an agent for the Dora Milaje – Wakanda's all-female special forces – and is joined by Danai Gurira, the English actress Letitia Wright and Oscar nominee Angela Bassett. So, with this and the female-led Wonder Woman, the gender gap is finally shrinking in what is beginning to look like a fruitful period for the actress in Tinseltown. If only this labyrinthine, uneven epic served them better.

 

JAMES CAMERON-WILSON

 

Cast: Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong'o, Danai Gurira, Martin Freeman, Daniel Kaluuya, Letitia Wright, Winston Duke, Angela Bassett, Forest Whitaker, Andy Serkis, Florence Kasumba, John Kani, Sterling K. Brown, Stan Lee, Sebastian Stan.

 

Dir Ryan Coogler, Pro Kevin Feige, Screenplay Ryan Coogler and Joe Robert Cole, Ph Rachel Morrison, Pro Des Hannah Beachler, Ed Michael P. Shawver and Claudia Castello, Music Ludwig Göransson, Costumes Ruth E. Carter.

 

Marvel Studios-Walt Disney Productions.

134 mins. USA. 2018. Rel: 13 February 2018. Cert. 12A.