Friday, 23 February 2018

BLACK PANTHER : Sunday 18th February 2018.

I saw 'BLACK PANTHER' last weekend, and herein Marvel Studios unleash another Superhero into our movie going world in this stand alone origin offering of 'Black Panther' (aka King T'Challa of the fictional African nation of Wakanda). The character created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby first appeared in the comic book 'Fantastic Four #52' in 1966 and depicts T'Challa as the King and protector of Wakanda. Along with possessing enhanced abilities achieved through ancient Wakandan ritual, T'Challa also relies on his genius intellect, rigorous physical training, martial arts skills, access to cutting edge technologies and accumulated wealth to ward off his enemies. Back in 1992 Wesley Snipes first muted his desire to work on a Black Panther film, and over the following ten years the project was further developed but eventually came to nothing. Then in 2005 Marvel announced that Black Panther was one of ten characters from its portfolio that would be developed as part of its Cinematic Universe. In 2011 a Scriptwriter was hired, and in 2014 the project was greenlit. Chadwick Boseman was cast in the role of T'Challa and made his first appearance in 2016's 'Captain America : Civil War' in which his character sides with Iron Man/Tony Stark. And so here we have this eighteenth film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and Directed and Co-Written by Ryan Coogler for US$200M. The film Premiered in the US at the end of January and went on general release around the world last week. The film has received widespread critical acclaim, noting especially the Direction, casting, action sequences, costume design and, in a first for Marvel starring a predominantly black cast. Box Office receipts so far stand at US$492M.

The film opens with a montage of scenes depicting the history of Wakanda, and how centuries ago five African tribes went to war over a meteorite containing vibranium (Wakandan vibranium absorbs sound waves and other vibrations, including kinetic energy. Absorbing sound waves, vibrations, and kinetic energy makes this metal stronger. Captain America's shield is made from vibranium). A warrior consumed a 'heart-shaped purple coloured herb' that was affected by the metal and gained superhuman capabilities. He became the first 'Black Panther', and united all tribes (except the Jabari Tribe who declined) to form the nation of Wakanda. Over time, the Wakandans used the vibranium to develop advanced technologies and wealth but isolated themselves from the world by posing as a poor Third World country, for fear that they would be exploited and overthrown if their mineral wealth was ever discovered.

We then jump to 1992, to Oakland, California where we see a bunch of young boys shooting hoops in their apartment block backyard. King T'Chaka (John Kani) pays an unexpected visit to his undercover brother N'Jobu (Sterling K. Brown). Black market arms trader, smuggler and all round gangster Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis) gained access to Wakanda secretly and stole a small quantity of vibranium. T'Chaka accuses his brother of collaborating with Klaue, a fact that is verified by N'Jobu's friend and fellow Wakandan undercover citizen Zuri (Denzel Whitaker). T'Chaka orders N'Jobu to return to Wakanda and stand trial for his crimes, but when he refuses and turns on Zuri, T'Chaka kills him, albeit reluctantly. A young lad in the back yard drops his basketball, and looks up to the sky to see two rotating circles of blue light hover above the apartment building and then disappear at great speed into the night sky.

We now are in the present day, and after King T'Chaka is killed, his son T'Challa (Chadwick Boseman) is the rightful heir to the throne. After extracting his love interest Nakia (Lupita Nyong'o), an undercover Wakandan spy and War Dog, from a rebel convoy deep in the Nigerian jungle, T'Challa and Okoye (Danai Gurira) the head of the Dora Milaje, the all-female highly trained and very capable special forces of Wakanda, who serve as T'Challa's trusted and fiercely loyal bodyguards, return to Wakanda to be with his mother Ramona (Angela Bassett) and younger sister Shuri (Letitia Wright) for the coronation ceremony.

At the ceremony, presided over by an older Zuri now (Forest Whitaker), the Jabari Tribe's leader M'Baku (Winston Duke) challenges T'Challa for the crown, which is his right to do so. The leaders of the other tribes are all given the opportunity to challenge also but respectfully decline. The Jabari have however, a long standing axe to grind with 'T'Challa and his kind. T'Challa overpowers M'Baku forcing him to yield rather than be killed, and so the opponent is permitted to leave, and the victor is crowned King.

While this is going on, over in England, Klaue and Erik 'Killmonger' Stevens (Michael B. Jordan) are planning to rob an ancient vibranium artifact from a museum in London. They successfully do so, and make their escape. T'Challa learns of the vibranium artifact heist and that Klaue was involved, and that further, he now plans to sell it in Busan, South Korea. W'Kabi (Daniel Kaluuya), T'Challa's close friend and love interest of Okoye, and who lost both his parents at the hands of Klaue, urges his King to hunt down the arch villain and either return him to Wakanda, or kill him. T'Challa, Nakia and Okoye travel to Busan to a secret underground casino location that is the designated exchange point for the sale of the vibranium artifact. There T'Challa comes across CIA Agent Everett K. Ross (Martin Freeman) who is the undercover buyer of the artifact, there on his own mission. When Klaue arrives on the scene it's not long before a firefight breaks out, with the action quickly moving to  a car chase outside on the streets of downtown Busan. Klaue is apprehended by T'Challa, aided by Nakia, Okoye and Shuri remotely.

Ross interrogates Klaue with T'Challa and Okoye looking on behind a mirrored window. Klaue reveals to Ross that Wakanda is in reality no third world country as they would have everyone believe, but a super developed technologically advanced and very wealthy country - Ross struggles to believe him. Just then Erik blows a hole in the wall, and extracts Klaue. In the ensuing exchange of gun fire, Ross takes a bullet intended for Nakia and is badly wounded. In the fleeting moments as Klaue and Erik make their getaway, T'Challa notices a ring hanging from around Erik's neck that is identical to the one worn by him too. T'Challa commits to have Ross taken back to Wakanda, where their technological wizardry can save his life, rather than pursue Klaue at this time.

With Shuri attending to Ross, T'Challa confronts Zuri about the ring seen hanging from around Erik's neck. Zuri is naturally reluctant to tell him the story, but does so. He explains that N'Jobu had intended to share Wakanda's technological advancements and their weaponry with the descendants of African peoples around the world, in order that they could rise up and beat their white oppressors. When King T'Chaka killed N'Jobu they left behind his young son, Erik, so as not to add complication to their story. Erik would become a US Black Op's soldier, who by reputation for the number of enemy kills notched up during his career earned the name 'Killmonger'. Erik kills Klaue, and takes his body to Wakanda where he is marched in front of T'Challa and the other tribal elders, where he reveals his heritage and his true claim to the throne.

Erik challenges T'Challa to a ritual combat for the right to the throne, which T'Challa accepts. First Erik kills Zuri for the crime of covering up his fathers death all those years ago. He then battles it out with T'Challa overpowering him, and ultimately tossing him over a waterfall from a high cliff. With T'Challa now out of the way and presumed dead, Erik, now known as N'Jadaka ascends to the throne of Wakanda, with W'Kabi and his tribal army standing by his side. Ramonda, Shuri, Naki and a now fully recovered Ross decide that it's time to get the Hell outta Dodge and flee. Okoye decides to stay for she is loyal to the throne - no matter who sits on it. N'Jadaka orders that preparations be made at all haste to distribute Wakanda's advanced weapons to ready in waiting field operations located around the world, in order that they can now rise up in force against their age old oppressors.

Meanwhile, having trekked over mountain terrain, Ramonda, Shuri, Naki and Ross arrive at the Jabari Tribe seeking aid from their Chief M'Baku. He declines, but leads them to the unconscious body of T'Challa fished out of the waterfall before he drowned, and rescued in payment for him sparing M'Baku's life during the earlier challenge for the throne. He is however, in a comatose state. Naki feeds T'Challa the herb she extracted before she left, enabling his body to self heal. T'Challa asks M'Baku for help but again he declines, saying that his debt is now repaid - a life for a life!

T'Challa returns to do battle with N'Jadaka and to overthrow the new pretender, who has now ordered and mobilised W'Kabi and his army to attack T'Challa, and for a fleet of aircraft to head out each carrying a stash of vibranium weapons for distribution to awaiting brothers at various points around the globe. While the battle for the upper hand is ongoing, Shuri commands a reluctant Ross to remotely pilot an attack aircraft to down those others en route to the worldwide destinations before they are able to leave Wakanda's airspace. Ross, a former Air Force pilot (conveniently) abides and is successful in his mission (naturally!)

The Dora Milaje, led by Okoye flanked by Shuri and Naki arrive to battle it out with N'Jadaka who has his own Black Panther suit, making him almost invincible. M'Baku and his Tribe of Jabari eventually arrive to provide much needed support against W'Kabi and his army, who eventually yield when confronted by Okoye.

All of this commotion, leave N'Jadaka to fight it out hand to hand with T'Challa, which they do in the depths of Wakanda's vibranium mine. Using some sort of electro magnetic force, T'Challa is able to disable N'Jadaka's protective suit, for just long enough to administer a fatal wound with a vibranium dagger. T'Challa offers to heal N'Jadaka, but the wounded man declines being healed and imprisoned, for dying a free man. And so be it! In the closing scene T'Challa and Naki are back in Oakland where it all began. He has purchased the apartment block where N'Jobu died all those years ago, and the one next to it, and the one next to that too. He intends to establish an outreach centre where Wakanda's technology and scientific learning's will be introduced to the world in a controlled and coordinated way for future generations to benefit from. Watch out too for the obligatory mid-credits and end-credits sequences, and Stan Lee's cameo.

'Black Panther' shines on just about every level. It sits up there easily with the best that Marvel has so far dished up in its seventeen previous outings from its Cinematic Universe. It has action set pieces, its has moments of humour, it has heart and emotion, it has colour and depth, it has a storyline that is rooted in African culture and tradition infused with every ultra modern scientific technological gadget you can possibly dream up, and it has believable relatable characters delivered to us fully realised by an almost entirely coloured ensemble cast. All these ingredients when combined with top notch production values, excellent cinematography, a great soundtrack, and safe assured Direction by Marvel's youngest Director to date in Ryan Coogler, all add up to a rich, satisfying origin Superhero offering that has something to say in today's world that is relevant and important. Recommended viewing, you won't be disappointed.

-Steve, at Odeon Online-

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