REVIEW | ‘Black Panther’ is more than just a superhero flick

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Chadwick Boseman is Black Panther.

With a terrific cast ensemble, a powerful villain, and with a story rich with ideologies and political theory, “Black Panther,” co-written and directed by Ryan Coogler (“Creed”), satisfyingly delivers both visual and intellectual entertainment.

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For the first time, MCU has become inclusive— creating a story that finally extends to non-Marvel/superhero fans. Like me. “Black Panther” is a breakthrough— the story is not merely a backdrop for CGI-action sequences and nifty superhero costumes and superpowers to cater to fanboys. But it’s a thought-provoking tale, with layers of politics and worldview and is progressive in its egalitarianism without trying hard to please.

Neither does “Black Panther” exploit the concept of inclusivity for entertainment. There’s no hint of racism here, or propaganda. Or contrivance. It delivers its deep and earnest point of view of the current World Order, without sacrificing the comic goods.

T’Challa/Black Panther is aptly played by the expressive and elegant Chadwick Boseman (“Message from the King). He’s the king of Wakanda, a fictional African country that has never been colonized and is rich with vibranium— a natural element that makes Wakanda the most technologically advanced country on Earth, albeit secretly.

The villain is U.S. citizen Erik Killmonger, played with a terrifying murderous rage by Michael B. Jordan (“Fruitvale Station”). With his two gold teeth, dreadlocks, and deadpan boyish face, he seems like your regular guy. But what is scary is his hatred, fanaticism, and radicalism, delivered by Jordan with chilling subtlety.

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Michael B. Jordan is villain Erik Killmonger.

T’Challa and Killmonger’s battle is not the standard Marvel formula of good vs. bad, but it is more complex, driven by their opposing political views. You understand Killmonger’s pain and anger, as someone who was raised in an impoverished inner-city, abandoned and oppressed. Meanwhile, you also understand the kind-hearted and privileged King T’Challa, who is committed to his vow to protect Wakanda and uphold the nation’s isolationism.

This pushes the audience to think: Is Killmonger’s messianic agenda the correct way to eliminate oppression on Earth? Is T’Challa wise to be indifferent to the chaos outside of Wakanda and maintain a neutral stance on world affairs?

But Killmonger is a terrorist, and so despite your sympathy towards his ideals and his painful backstory, the movie is still crystal clear on what is morally right and wrong. Killmonger’s principles may make sense, but his methods are wrong. And it emphasizes the simple truth that hatred spawns evil.

The supporting characters are also strong and richly developed, like T’Challa’s love interest, Nakia (Oscar-winner Lupita Nyong’o), and General Okoye (Danai Gurira), the head of the king’s military arm. In the world of Wakanda, the men recognize the women as their equal, and this type of progressive thinking (not hardsell feminism) is gratifying. It is pure delight to see an all-women military arm, as well as T’Challa’s sister, the princess of Wakanda (Letitia Wright), as a young, sassy tech genius.

The women of Wakanda.
The women of Wakanda.

The great Andy Serkis, as the Australian smuggler, is a joy to watch, as well as Martin Freeman (“Sherlock”) as CIA operative Agent Everett K. Ross, who gets hilariously mixed up in the Wakandan battle. The ageless Angela Bassett as T’Challa’s mother is regal and beautiful, and W’Kabi (Daniel Kaluuya) from “Get Out,” one of the king’s arms, gives a quiet but powerful stance on the isolationism debate.

The nation of Wakanda is a delightful combination of ultra-modern and traditional; merging science and African aesthetics and tribal traditions. And the music is a soul-stirring mix of hip-hop music and African beats, and the costumes are  gorgeous. My only complaint is the action scenes; still the Marvel trademark – blurry, incoherent, and lazy. Plus Wakanda does not really look stunning.

“Black Panther,” the 18th film from the MCU, gracefully balances wit, superhero fantasy, and pathos, further enhanced by its ultra-talented and pedigreed cast. It’s not out to impress you with superhero pizzazz, but it actually makes you care for all the characters. It is emotionally and intellectually engaging, funny, suspenseful, and thrilling. Indeed, it’s the best Marvel movie to date.

4 out of 5 stars

Opens February 14, 2018 in Philippine cinemas. Also available in IMAX.

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