Black Panther (Ryan Coogler, 2018)
If you could have anyone direct your favorite property (Star Wars, Marvel, DC, James Bond, etc), who would it be? Star Wars hit gold, in my book, with Rian Johnson helming The Last Jedi, and Marvel has made some very sound decisions for the director's chair recently (Taika Waititi anyone?). However, I would be hard pressed to find a better pairing of property and director than Black Panther and Ryan Coogler, whose two previous films (Fruivale Station and Creed) suggest a long and promising career as a premier filmmaker. His sensibilities as a filmmaker pair so seemlessly with the Black Panther character and what Marvel seems to want to be doing with its franchise, which recently is hand its material over to capable, visionary directors who can play their game, but also enhance the material given to them. Coogler knocks this one out of the park.
We were first introduced to T'Challa, or Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) in Captain America: Civil War where his father, the king of Wakanda, is killed. However with this film, his story stands alone and you need not have seen any of the other Marvel films. After his father's death, T'Challa assumes the role as king of Wakanda, an African nation thought by the world to be a third-world nation. But in reality, Wakanda is rich in a special element called vibranium, which helps fuel their energy, technology, and the powers of the Black Panther. Their secret is in jeopardy, however, when long time nemesis Klaue (Andy Serkis), who stole vibranium from them before, shows up on the radar once again, this time with a young, violent sidekick named Erik (Michael B. Jordan), who would like nothing more than to take Wakanda down.
Black Panther is the type of film I could find the time to talk about at length, and yet I want to see it time and time again because after just one viewing I can't help but feel that I've missed this or that, or simply because it's such a cool, fun rush of a movie that I want to experience it over and over again. Likely more the latter than the former, but there is plenty to unpack in this film as well, which is likely one of Marvel's very best they've ever produced. Getting Ryan Coogler teamed with this absolutely perfect, amazing cast goes a long way in forming the movie into what it is, which is a strong action movie with an incredibly socially conscious and entertaining script. Everything down from the villains to the heroes and everything in between just works in this film.
I think the greatest achievement in this film is how it embraces itself. That may seem self-serving, but what I mean is that it embraces who Black Panther is and what he means to black culture. A comic book character may not mean much, but Coogler and company, building off the character created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, are able infuse T'Challa and the story here with tradition, culture, and various viewpoints on the African-American condition and how to address them. There has already been backlash against this movie for it's socially conscious narrative touches, and what a shame that is. These touches are not intrusive to the story being told, but any socially aware viewer will be able to pick up on them. That Coogler is able to artfully craft these discussion points into an otherwise rocking action movie is impressive and catapults this film up the list of great Marvel achievements.
And this is a great action movie, complete with awesome fight scenes (the Challenge fights are intense, and the casino fight is wonderfully filmed), and an awesome array of weapons and gadgets courtesy of the wonders of vibranium. And I still can't believe the cast. Boseman is good as T'Challa, Jordan shines as Erik, Nyong'o, Kaluuya, Gurira, Wright, Basset and Whitaker all have their great moments as well. Each character serves a purpose and has their own motivation, their own role, their own perspective. Even Andy Serkis appears to be the perfect off-kilter villain. Why has he been relegated to only playing the motion-capture roles!? I would be honestly shocked if this movie doesn't stand the test of time and become a classic Marvel film, remembered for its audacity, and cultural strength and commentary, but most of all for its impeccable filmmaking. I wish I could already buy tickets for Ryan Coogler's next movie.★★★ 1/2 - Great