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Movie Review: Black Panther

Black Panther is Marvel's most unique, most personal film, yet

Black Panther
Directed by Ryan Coogler
In Theatres

A common complaint about the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been the uniformity of the films, that they all look like they were shot and cut and scored by the same team. That the Russo Brothers' films are indistinguishable in look and feel and sound from the Jon Favreau films, from the Joe Johnston film, from the Kenneth Branagh film. And, if we are going to sit here and generalize, it's an argument that can be made. Quick - hum the Avengers theme. Or the Ant-Man theme. Or the Captain America theme. Now, hum the Bond theme. Or the Empire theme from the Star Wars movies. See, what I mean? 

And the same can be said for the editing, for the cinematography. If we're sitting around generalizing. If we're going to continue to generalize, it can be argued that Marvel Studios has worked towards a certain look, a particular sound. I guess what I'm trying to say here is, generally speaking, if we're going to make sweeping statements and over simplify things, you could sit down to all 17 Marvel Studios' movies and rarely notice a singular artistic voice. There are exceptions, of course. There are always exceptions. Shane Black's Iron Man 3, loved by some, despised by others. James Gunn's Guardians movies, which brought Jack Kirby to the cineplex. Or Ant-Man, which couldn't shake off some of Edgar Wright's ideas for the film. Jon Watts' Spider-Man, which carried its John Hughes influence almost all the way to the finish. Or Taika Waititi's Thor: Ragnarok, a mash-up of a Marvel movie and a Taika Waititi movie and with a score by Mark Mothersbaugh.

And now there's Ryan Coogler's Black Panther, the single most personal Marvel Studios film yet. And it just might be my favourite Marvel Studios film. Sorry Winter Soldier, but, damn, I love this movie. From the opening to the final post-credits scene, I love Black Panther.

To make this giant comic book blockbuster personal Mr. Coogler assembled a team made up of people that had worked on his previous films, Fruitvale Station and Creed. Like composer Ludwig Goransson, editor Michael P. Shawver, cinematographer Rachel Morrison, art director Jesse Rosenthal, production designer Hannah Beachler, and the mighty Michael B. Jordan. With these creative partners Mr. Coogler has made a film unlike anything in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. 

Working from a script written by himself and Joe Robert Cole, Mr. Coogler and his team have created something special, something timely and timeless, something personal and crowd-pleasing. This is a giant comic book blockbuster that has themes that are Shakespearean in scope, like father/son dynamics, like responsibility, like identity, but still sticks the superhero landing. And Black Panther, like last year's Wonder Woman, is an Important Film that never once hits its audience over the head with its importance. 

Let's chat about the cast of Black Panther. This spectacular, amazing, incredible cast. This marvellous cast. See what I did there? Sorry. Anyway. Unlike most giant comic book blockbusters, the cast of Black Panther is a true ensemble. Every player is a true heavyweight of acting, but each allows the other to breathe, no-one dominates at any time unless it is in service of the story. Chadwick Boseman is T'Challa, the Black Panther, the conflicted warrior king of the fictional kingdom of Wakanda.. The team surrounding him are made up of Lupita Nyong'o as Nakia, Letitia Wright as Shuri, and The Walking Dead's Danai Gurira as Okoye. Their back and forth, their riffing on each other, it feels natural and organic, it feels like a group that has been working together for years. Where Bruce Wayne had his Alfred and Tony Stark has his robots and his AI and Pepper, T'Challa has this tight group. The performances, every single one of them, is note perfect. And not just the core group of the film. Every single performance. From above the title to background extra, every performance, every character feels real. 

Of course, with a cast that includes Forest Whitaker, Andy Serkis, John Kani, Martin Freeman, Sterling K. Brown, Angela Bassett what else would anyone expect?

And then there's Michael B. Jordan. Why he isn't a Giant Star is a complete mystery. Every scene he is in, he very nearly eclipses his fellow actors with his ethereal charisma. His Erik Killmonger might be the most complex villain since Heath Ledger's Joker. 

I am really struggling not to give anything away about Black Panther. Look, it's amazing. It pays homage not to comic book movies but rather to the Bond films, to the Lord of the Rings trilogy, to action thrillers that Mr. Coogler grew up on. Mr. Goransson's score is unlike nearly anything heard in the cineplex. Kendrick Lamar's songs are phenomenal. Of course they are. It's Kendrick Lamar. 

Anyway. This has gone on way too long. See Black Panther. See Black Panther in the theatres. This is one film that needs the audience experience.