I suppose I might be as guilty as the next critic for declaring some films “masterpieces.” However, when I do it’s because I believe they are. In these days of comic book hero adaptations, I have seen all the films, but just two from this new genre do I call masterpieces. The Dark Knight (2008), as that stunning film elevated the comic book to an art form. The second? This new film, Black Panther, one of the greatest surprises I have ever had in a cinema. It is the best film Marvel has made.
The character Black Panther was first was seen with the Fantastic Four in 1966, and was never at the upper echelon of super hero characters. Yet on film it will find an audience, and they won’t just be African Americans, as the film has a global appeal. I sat down to watch the film with no expectations. Partway through I was in completely, and knew I was watching something tinged with a greatness that The Dark Knight had.
The nation of Wakanda is a peaceful well-guarded place in Africa, a place where the people have managed to keep quiet the fantastic innovations they have there. Empowered by a mystery metal, vibranium, they have managed to create a world where vehicles soar through the air, skyscrapers with thatch huts soar into astoundingly blue skies, technology merges but never overpowers the obviously rural land that they call their home.
T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman), a prince in his country, is the latest in a long line of princes to also be Black Panther, a super hero who wears a suit spun with the miracle metal and makes him indestructible. Fast, acrobatic, sleek like the jungle cat for which he is named.
When a nasty soldier, Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) discovers what they are hiding, he wants it. Killmonger believes the metal should be used to arm the oppressed to prevent future oppression against Africans. Villains also turn up in the guise of Klaue, portrayed by a thuggish, sneering Andy Serkis. Even T’Challa’s ex-girlfriend, Nakia, portrayed by Oscar winner Lupita N’Yongo, believes the metal should be shown to the rest of the globe, but to do good, innocently not realizing others would use it against her city.
Without divulging too much of the plot, some vibranium is stolen, and it becomes a grand chase film.
Never before has a film about African Americans placed them in such a world encompassing position, with one of their own as the hero. Boseman is a magnificent hero, settling into the role with an ease that clearly states he was born to play this part. Jordan, so good in Creed (2015) is buff and charismatic as the villain. The two actors represent the future of African American actors in the business. Andy Serkis, who played Gollum in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, has fun as a bad guy, and the rest of the cast is a recent who’s who of fine African American actors, including N’Yongo, the great Forest Whitaker, Angela Bassett, Emmy winner Sterling K. Brown and Daniel Kaluuya. All do exceptional work, but none overpowers the excellent storyline and performances of the two lead characters.
The action sequences are utterly breathtaking, some of the best committed to film in the last 30 years, with dynamic chases, stunts and feats of courage and strength performed by Black Panther. My jaw hit the ground more than once throughout the film, and considering my disdain for comic book adaptations, my absolute love of this film is a minor miracle.
Marvel has had some good films, a couple of great films but they have not released a bona fide masterpiece, until now. When the end of the year comes around, this film will top many ten best lists, and maybe show up in the Oscar race. Ryan Coogler, an unknown five years ago, will move to the top of the “A” director list with this film. If all comic book adaptations were this good, I would love them as I love The Dark Knight, Wonder Woman and this.
Wow. Cannot wait to see it again.