So… how good was Black Panther (2018 Disney Marvel, directed by Ryan Coogler)? It lived up to its hype, which is saying a lot. The cast was typically impressive for the MCU and included Chadwick Boseman in the title role, Letitia Wright as his delightfully uppity and precocious little sister, Michael B. Jordan as Killmonger, Lupita Nyongo as the love interest, Danai Gurira, Forest Whitaker as a Wakandan priest/shaman, Daniel Kaluuya, Angela Bassett, Andy Serkis, Martin Freeman, Winston Duke as the king of a different Wakandan clan, and Sterling K. Brown as Killmonger’s father. The length of the previous sentence hints at the tedium of reviewing each fine performance, so I will limit myself to the performances which stood out most for me.
Obviously, Chadwick Boseman was excellent. I had previously been impressed by his turn in Captain America: The Civil War. I have already mentioned Letitia Wright. Let me explain that I’m a city transplant to a smaller, more rural community. The people sitting nearest me in the theater were white – okay, we were all white – and one said, “She’s my favorite character,” during one of Letitia Wright’s turns on screen. The same goes for me. Lupita Nyongo played a strong counterpart to the Black Panther and complemented his qualities well. Angela Bassett performed well as a convincingly wise matriarch, and in fact, all of the women were strong. I grew up in a family of strong men and strong women, so it was refreshing for me to see this on the big screen. Neither gender was reduced to being a foil for the other.
By the way, the costumes (especially for the women) were beautiful, and I heard a spot on NPR where the designer mentioned her use of African fabrics, patterns, and re-imagined traditional styles.
Not that it isn’t obvious, but I want to call attention to Michael B. Jordan’s portrayal of Killmonger. Marvel has a history of writing nuanced villains with mitigating back stories, and this was a well-written character. The acting made him very affecting, especially during one scene which I will mention in a later post.
Although he wasn’t on for very long, Sterling K. Brown really impressed me with his acting chops and his screen presence, as did Winston Duke. I first became aware of these fine actors while watching Person of Interest on television. Since then, I have seen each of them in varied roles, and these men can flat out act. Andy Serkis and Martin Freeman were also their consistently good selves.
This movie had other redeeming virtues. My wife mentioned the sense of dignity and honor which pervaded the story and the characters (something which we found lacking for much of Thor: Ragnarok, which came across at times as a pangalactic fart joke despite the fact that I liked the overall film). There were also themes of forgiveness, compassion for one’s adversaries, community, and global responsibility.
I don’t want this post to go on for too long, so I’ll save some more for next week.