Black Panther is hypnotic, imaginative and nothing like anything you would have ever seen
After spending thousands of hours watching films over the years, I rarely come across anything that I haven’t already watched before in a slightly different guise. It doesn’t necessarily mean that we have run out of good cinema. It is just that someone like me who is a prolific movie-watcher hardly gets to experience a work of cinematic art these days, which is truly novel.
But to my utter surprise, I did manage to find such a gem and that too in the most unlikeliest of places. Imagine my astonishment when I went in to watch a Marvel movie predicting a typical superhero tale, only to come out marvelling at the sheer originality that my senses were treated to, when the film ended.
Sure, it’s a usual Hollywood blockbuster, but I’ll bet Black Panther is nothing like anything you would have ever seen. The Afrofuturistic fare is a hypnotic concoction of the fascinatingly exotic Black culture mixed with some innovatively unique tribal sights and sounds; something that you would never expect to find in a mainstream Tinseltown offering.
Black Panther might be the 18th film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but it is the first one to feature a non-white male lead.
The story starts off shortly after the events of Captain America: Civil War. T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) returns home to take over his father’s throne in Wakanda, a fictional kingdom that has more to it than meets the eye. To the rest of the world, they are a poor central African country, but thanks to a rare super metal Vibranium, they are discreetly the richest and the most technologically advanced nation on Earth. Black Panthers are the hereditary monarchs of Wakanda who are tasked with guarding the secrets of Vibranium, and T’Challa, following his father’s assassination, is the next in line.
It is not all smooth sailing for our latest king as threats are raining down on him left, right and centre. Luckily for our protagonist, the women of the kingdom have got his back. T’Challa’s guard includes the Dora Milaje, an all-female Wakandan Special Force, headed by the fierce Okoye (Danai Gurira), providing the brawn.
The brain behind the king is his sister, Princess Shuri (Letitia Wright), who also serves as the chief technology developer. Wisdom is provided by T’Challa’s mother, Queen Ramonda (Angela Bassett) while Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o) is the love interest-cum-spy, who is the eyes and ears of her people in the world outside.
We also have a couple of meaty male Wakandan characters in the form of T’Challa’s spiritual advisor, Zuri (Forest Whitaker), and best friend/head of security, W’Kabi (Daniel Kaluuya) topping the list. T’Challa’s main non-Wakandan ally is the white CIA agent, Everett K Ross (Martin Freeman).
While external foes in shape of Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis) are early threats to our hero’s reign, it’s the challenge to the throne of a long-lost cousin, Erik Killmonger (Michael B Jordan) – who wants to use the secret Vibranium to arm the oppressed blacks around the world – that would prove to be most mentally and physically exhaustive for T’Challa.
On the face of it, Black Panther is an engaging superhero film with plenty of twists and turns. However, what elevates it from merely good to culturally significant is how the movie manages to subtly and effectively incorporate the Afrocentric issues of racism, colonialism and slavery, without bogging down the screenplay with the whole politics of it.
I have already stated this before but the look and feel of the movie is so tremendously unique and mesmerising that it deserves another mention. The amount of imagination that went into making a world that is African at heart but futuristic on its exterior is just mind-boggling. The production design team simply cannot be praised enough for it. Furthermore, the music is also fresh with an innovative mixture of contemporary hip-hop, tribal sounds and an orchestral score providing a distinctive experience to the ears.
On the acting front, Chadwick Boseman is the obvious star of the film, but it is the performance of the supporting cast that makes the movie shine. All of the female characters are strong and are acted out commendably. Andy Serkis and Martin Freeman are the two main white acts from the film and you can always count on the duo to give a reliable performance.
But despite all the aforementioned powerhouse performers, there is one character that stole everyone’s thunder and that is the brutal yet sympathetic Eri Killmonger. Michael B Jordan was a revelation in Creed but playing the chief antagonist in Black Panther is going to be his true claim to fame. It’s not just his cool looks that will make him a household name; it is how he managed to display his justified rage – an anger which stems from being an oppressed minority in a country like the US. For him, the end justifies the means. So don’t feel bad if you find yourself rooting for him as opposed to our protagonist, trust me, you won’t be the only one doing that.
Ultimately, when all is said and done, the true reason why I, or any other dark-skinned person, should really cherish the film is because – no offence intended – our kids would finally get a world where super heroes are not exclusively white. As T’Challa remarks at a point during the film,
“What happens now determines what happens to the rest of the world.”
All photos: IMDb
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