The good news here is that Black Panther is the best live action Marvel film to date. Kudos goes towards Ryan Coogler’s direction, as he refused to assimilate entirely to the Marvel blueprint. With his indie cinema background, Coogler finds magic in the cinematic language more than in the special effects. Of course, Black Panther is going to have CGI and stunts going on. Yet, Coogler made damn sure that this was going to be the most artistic Marvel film out there. He did this through two key themes: including cultural roots at the heart of the story and the world building, and be as indie-cinema as possible while being tethered to the Marvel tentpole.
Wakanda is a fictional world that is bolstered by the substance vibranium. This material can hold power (thus becoming a sustainable resource for running systems, including electricity and transportation), is strong with its formation (armour is made out of it), and is easy to shape (see all of the above, and then some). This comic book take on the colonialism of African countries for goods is strong, because there is much stock placed into the powerful object from the very start. Black Panther is not a literal person, but a title, currently held by T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman); Black Panther equates to being king of Wakanda. T’Challa is graced with his Black Panther get up (vibranium found everywhere); this material is literally in charge of all of Wakanda.
So, with Wakanda established, we can see why outside forces would try and dismantle it. The obvious is with Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis): a South African black market thug that finds the substance exploitable. The real catch is through Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan): a direct descendant of a Wakandan citizen that betrayed his people. Killmonger finds injustice in Wakanda harbouring this seemingly indestructible element for itself, when persons of colour all around the world are struggling with poverty and political injustice. Unfortunately, his experiences have turned into hate, so he swears to become Black Panther in order to take control of the world.
Heritage is crucial through all of this, and Coogler knew this. Wakanda is breathtaking to look at, as its technological infrastructure runs rampant like natural roots, and its nature lights up the sky like a cityscape. Everything — from Ludwig Görannson’s score, down to the production design — is shaped together by African influence, and science fiction vision. This trickles down to every other department. The cinematography is graced with stunning images, so it thrives with its vibrant interpretations. The sound mixing and editing combat between futuristic, mechanical noises, and the pleasant runs of a riverbed or a breeze.
This is where Coogler’s indie roots come in. Long shots, natural lighting, and aesthetic blending render Black Panther a gorgeous experience when it comes to comic book films (especially ones that cater to a mold). Every conventional element just feels a little different. Fight scenes feel less like technical marvels, and more like cinematic journeys. This is especially true when it comes to the CGI work, which actually takes a bit of a step back compared to the rest of the film’s elements (it’s noticeable enough to point out, but not enough to irritate).
That was the good news: this is the best live action Marvel film. So, let’s go into the very brief bad news: this is still a Marvel film, which means it absolutely has to fit into the Marvel universe’s criteria. There are jokes that feel a little too tossed-in (the “what are those?” shoes scene comes to mind), or not fleshed out enough (who cares about Coachella when Wakanda is the greatest place on Earth?). There’s also the highly predictable storyline, which is not the biggest problem ever, because, once again, this is a Marvel film. Origin stories are expected to just explain how a superhero came to be. We know they are around, because of their involvement in other Avengers related films. We know nothing fatal will happen to Black Panther in this film, because he is an Avenger. If you are fine with all of the tropes that make a Marvel film distinctively Marvel, then you need not worry.
Otherwise, Black Panther is a thrilling story that connects social politics to a reshaping of Mother Earth. It is clever with its progressions, and powerful with its debates. It enjoys having a complex discussion, rather than making a villain distinctively evil; we firmly understand why Killmonger is the way that he is, despite not agreeing with his actions. It might irk some people that this BP is up for another BP: Best Picture. How can a Marvel film be up here? If you stripped the Marvel title, and somehow recreated the entire film the exact same way without violating any copyrights, Black Panther fits in very nicely against the backs of Mad Max: Fury Road and Avatar as an action film with something to say. If the latter two films can be nominated (especially Avatar, whose storyline is more than questionable), then why not this battle for Wakanda?
Andreas Babiolakis has a Masters degree in Film and Photography Preservation and Collections management from Ryerson University, as well as a Bachelors degree in Cinema Studies from York University. His favourite times of year are the Criterion Collection flash sales and the annual Toronto International Film Festival.