Directed by: Ryan Coogler
Written by: Ryan Cooler & Joe Robert Cole
In 2018, Black Panther arrived in theaters and presented one of the most iconic Black superheroes to audiences globally. Chadwick Boseman delivered a phenomenal performance as T’Challa/Black Panther which helped to propel the film into a global box office phenomenon of $1.3 billion. With Boseman’s unfortunate passing in the summer of 2020, the cast and director had the daunting task of trying to not only craft a story without him but also in memory of him, threading the needle between mourning him and story progression. With that, I’m happy to report the writers and cast managed to pull together in spirt the charisma and commanding presence of Boseman and deliver a fantastic film that earns a ‘Writing a movie RIGHT’ review.
Here comes the spoilers.
Right out of the gate the film immediately addresses T’Challa’s (Boseman) death. Much like reality, the film reflects it as sudden and unexpected for the characters of the film, much like it was for the rest of us in real life. Shuri/Princess of Wakanda (Letitia Wright) is now front and center along with the Queen of Wakanda/Queen Mother Ramonda (Angela Bassett) having to carry the emotional weight of the film forward. These two leading ladies and the supporting cast, which is also largely female, portray strong women and an inspiring message to young women around the world.
The film then soon puts us in the middle of a United Nations meeting discussing Wakanda’s control of vibranium and the covert efforts of the other nations to acquire it by forceful means. Eventually, the US resorts to using a device created by a young MIT student Riri Williams (Dominique Thorne) that detects vibranium. During an under-sea exploration to find vibranium, the crew of the expedition crosses paths with a race of underwater beings exhibiting super-human strength and agility. These beings are led by the film’s antagonist, Namor/Ruler of Talocan (Tenoch Huerta).
This conflict forces Namor to reach out to Ramona and Shuri under threat of starting a war with Wakanda if they do not hunt and kill the inventor of the device. His motive is to prevent the US from continuing to search for vibranium in the sea to protect his people and keep them and their underwater home hidden from the surface world. Therefore, he makes the Queen Mother and Shuri swear to secrecy the knowledge of his people’s existence.
General Okoye (Dana Gurira) convinces the Queen Mother into taking Shuri with her on a mission to recover the young inventor to keep her out of harm’s way, and as an attempt to help Shuir move past her mourning. The duo finds Williams and it isn’t long before the CIA attempts to capture them all. During their escape, they are ambushed by the warriors of Talocan, where Shuri and Williams are taken to the underwater home of the Talocan, and Okoye left behind.
Here the film splits frequently into different character’s perspectives: the scenes of CIA agent Everett K. Ross/The Colonizer (Marin Freeman), Shuri and Namor, and Queen mother and Okoye. The scene with tense dialogue between the Queen Mother and Okoye stands out as the most emotionally charged moment in the film. Both actresses push their performance to an Oscar-nomination-worthy level and adeptly portray the two character’s duality of being painfully right and wrong at the same time. This theme goes on to repeat itself with Shuri and Namor later in the film how each character chooses to protect their people.
Perhaps the largest reveal that audiences are waiting for is who will don the Black Panther outfit once more. If you guessed Shuri, you are right. Her motive behind becoming the new Black Panther is done out of vengeance for her family after Wakanda was attacked by Namor. This theme of vengeance was written near perfectly as a moral dilemma with the only other film I can say handles it better is Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (2002).
I will stop there with the spoilers and say that of all the veteran Hollywood actors and actresses in Marvel’s Cinematic Universe (MCU) movies, Basset’s performance stands out the tallest among them all. The rest of the female cast takes the worn out cliche of a “fierce woman” and adds the depth and humanity behind where their strength comes from, truly capturing what it means to be badass.
Do yourself a favor and go see this film, if only for the amazing performances and even better writing on display. Out of now 30 films in MCU, they finally got the villain right. This film leaves you with a final tribute to the loss Boseman was for us, all while Wakanda lives on. Bozeman Forever.
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