The praise for this latest entry in the increasingly bloated Marvel Cinematic Universe has been so unanimously vociferous, it almost seems redundant weighing in at this stage with another glowing take. But given how the Hollywood hype cycle so often leads to merely above-average comic book movies being heralded as game-changing masterpieces (Last year’s Wonder Woman springs immediately to mind), it’s worth acknowledging that Black Panther is very nearly as good as the denizens of film Twitter would have you believe.
Of course, in this particular instance, the film’s mere existence is somewhat revolutionary. Charismatic protagonist T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) is far from the first black screen superhero, but never before have we seen a tentpole blockbuster in which black characters have such agency. The mythical kingdom of Wakanda, where much of the action unfolds, appears to the outside world as just another impoverished, war-torn African nation, but is in fact a pristine utopia powered by advanced technology. Director Ryan Coogler counters the established cinematic racial order, casting the cream of current black screen talent as rulers, inventors and kick-ass warrior princesses, as opposed to slaves, criminals or victims of hate crime. But the film is far from a frivolous fantasy, with Coogler maintaining one eye throughout on the harsher aspects of real-world African and African-American life.
Crucially, it’s also a rollicking good time – a swaggering, sexy Afrofuturist riff on the James Bond formula, replete with satisfyingly slick action set pieces, and powered by a killer soundtrack courtesy of Kendrick Lamar and composer Ludwig Göransson. And unlike the vast majority of its Marvel stablemates, it tells an emotionally-charged, coherent story that doesn’t require you to have watched a dozen previous films to fully comprehend. Throw into the mix Michael B. Jordan as one of the most empathetic, compellingly nuanced Hollywood villains in recent memory, and it’s easy to forgive the inevitable slightly tedious, CGI-heavy climactic battle sequence.
Black Panther | Directed by Ryan Coogler (USA 2018) with Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan. Starts February 15
Check our OV search engine for showtimes.