Once in a while a film comes along that changes the entire cinematic landscape. Over the past several years, rumbling about the casting of black actors (or lack thereof) in Hollywood has bloomed into a full-blown revolt. Coupled with the volatile racial environment in the U.S. at the moment, now feels like the perfect time for something to emerge from the creative hive mind. Black Panther is that thing, a powerful message to the world audience.
It’s impossible to separate current politics from the film, but to do so would rob the movie of its greatest strength. In a society stubbornly resistant to change, what better way to get the point across than through a superhero movie? Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther is, in the simplest explanation, a display of power, a declaration that says things cannot continue the way they are.
Also important is the impact this movie can have on the current generation of black youth, who barely ever see themselves represented heroically on the big screen. For those unaware, with the exception of two people, each main cast member in the movie is black. Excluding blaxploitation and Tyler Perry movies — but even many of those have a smattering of white faces — this is really the first time we’re seeing this. In 2018.
How is the cast?
Outstanding from top to bottom. You can actually feel the emotion of each actor, that shooting this movie was something visceral for them. Chadwick Boseman, as T’Challa/Black Panther, is a quiet leader and superhero who doesn’t resort to excessive violence or snap decisions. He is measured and is the movie’s sturdy anchor, a person for everyone to turn to when things get rough.
A pleasant surprise is the ferocity of the women in the main cast — Lupita Nyong’o as Nakia, Danai Gurira as Okoye, Angela Bassett as Ramonda and Letitia Wright as Shuri — who aren’t afraid to step up and lead the fight. Whether it’s through technology (Shuri’s strength) or as the general of the country’s army (Okoye), women are front and centre. Black Panther doesn’t just pay lip service; women are fundamental to this movie and to the survival of the country of Wakanda.
As other critics have been saying, Michael B. Jordan, as the villain Erik Killmonger, is the scene-stealer of the movie. This isn’t new news; Jordan has excelled in everything he’s ever been in, since his childhood days on The Wire. “Where the f**k is Wallace?” He’s in Black Panther, absolutely ripped and kicking ass, ensuring a lifelong career in movies.
Who’s the intended audience for this movie?
For practically the first time since cinema began, this is a superhero movie meant for black people. Aside from Wesley Snipes’ Blade, it’s a rare thing to see a black superhero, especially one on this grand a scale. But that doesn’t mean if you’re not black, you can’t see the movie and appreciate how fantastic it is. By watching the film (and loving every second of it), you’re also contributing to the increased production of black-led-and-directed cinema, which is a win-win for everybody.
Is the story good?
Black Panther follows the typical superhero story arc, so don’t expect too many surprises there. What elevates the movie is the cinematography, so gloriously rich and hypnotizing that whenever you leave Wakanda it feels physically jarring. The camaraderie among the cast transcends the screenplay, too. You can feel the ensemble pushing the final product into the stratosphere, so any hiccups along the way, like some hard-to-follow fight scenes, are mere blips on the radar. Before you know it, you’re back into the movie. Its two-hour-and-fifteen-minute runtime feels half that.
So what’s the bottom line?
Without question, Black Panther is one of the finest superhero movies to come along in a while (maybe ever?). What makes it succeed even more is the idea that this superhero stands for elements in the bigger real-life picture, too: representation, inclusion, togetherness — all things every person in modern society should strive for.
‘Black Panther’ opens in theatres across Canada on Feb. 16.