Success can breed familiarity and complacency so it wouldn’t surprise anyone if Marvel started to drop the ball on their Cinematic Universe but Black Panther seems to be showing that the studio has ambitions and plans beyond their universe-building event movie Infinity War. This is because rather than rest on the laurels, Marvel are introducing newer, lesser known characters but giving them clout and propulsion to make them feel as important as the more mainstream fare. Black Panther is no exception here.
Another superhero, another origin movie but Black Panther’s is slightly different. Each Marvel movie has been hero-focused but bends the genre to make them different. Spider-Man Homecoming was a high-school drama, Captain America: Winter Soldier was a spy thriller and Ant-Man was a heist movie. Black Panther gets to be a movie set in two different worlds.
For starters, it is a hero steeped in African folk-lore. The world of Wakanda is buried deep and secretly in the heart of Africa so the movie opens with African ritual, ceremony and a sequence for choosing the new King of Wakanda which includes a fight to the death on the top of a waterfall. So far, so different, as Black Panther offers a different type of Marvel superhero.
This African-heritage rubs up against a civilisation which is also advanced in their technology. So alongside ceremonial dress is also lasers, hi-tech suits and flying cars. This is where the second style of movie comes into play, as Black Panther strays ever so closely to spy territory, from a gadget briefing reminiscent of Bond and Q through to a showdown in a casino.
Black Panther has a fresh feel to it and it is welcoming. There is little reliance on past movies in the franchise to prop this film up, although events in Civil War play their part and both Martin Freeman and Andy Serkis reprise characters. This is clearly a stand-alone outing and it is ably held in place by Chadwick Boseman as T’Challa, the titular hero.
Boseman is confident without being cocky, regal without being aloof and heroic without being a “boy scout.” He is a different type of hero to the rest of the Marvel Universe, holding a whole kingdom on his shoulders but without the assurance you’d get from Thor.
This is why when Michael B Jordon as villain Killmonger is introduced, the threat feels real. Unlike many other Marvel origin movie villains, Killmonger has a developed backstory and a legitimate gripe with our hero. He is also an actual match for the Black Panther and the sequences where they go toe-to-toe in battle is one of the highlights of the film. It also means the movie goes in a direction you wouldn’t expect.
There are also plenty for the supporting characters to do as well and unlike many other Marvel movies (and superhero movies in general) this is a supporting cast with a strong female presence. The female-led contingent is one of strength and they get their stand-out action sequences too, with Lupita Nyong’o and Letitia Wright both putting in almost movie-stealing performances.
It would seem all the key ingredients for one of the best Marvel movies are here but there is still the underlying problem that plagues all origin movies: it follows the same path. The hero is born, he shows his powers, he is vanquished and humbled only to rise again. Thor, Iron Man, Captain America and even the newest Spider-Man all followed this path and as effective as it is, with this many movies having passed, it is a shame that we are still seeing the same thing.
This also goes for the finale of the movie which fails to live up to what went before. A huge battle where little is lost or gained which ultimately is decided by the smaller battle between the hero and principle villain. This is a great package for that particular story but it still equates to what we have seen many times before.
This does mean there is some hope for a sequel which can go further, or better yet, a very good showing at the Marvel event which is Infinity War. There is much more here than just one titular hero and a whole universe of character have been developed from Wakanda alone.
Overall, Black Panther is another strong entry into the wider Marvel Cinematic Universe. A spy movie buried within African folklore, it offers something seemingly very different to the usual superhero fare. Unfortunately, familiar themes, story-beats and finale creep in and Black Panther only just steps out of the generic origin story shadow.
Rating – 3.5
(1 – Awful, 2 – Average, 3 – Good, 4 – Great, 5! – Must See)