“You Are A Good Man, With A Good Heart. And It’s Hard For A Good Man To Be A King…”
Whilst it is now common practice for Disney to hire critically acclaimed and subversive filmmakers in the ilk of Taika Waititi, Shane Black and the Russo Brothers to helm tangent releases of the Marvel Cinematic Universe post The Avengers, the decision to choose Ryan Coogler as the leading light behind Black Panther, the eighteenth release within the ever-expanding superhero franchise, is a real stroke of genius, a talented filmmaker with the likes of Fruitvale Station and Creed in his back pocket and most importantly, a director who knows full well the balance between script and spectacle when given the chance to helm pedigree franchises and big budget releases. Utilising an astounding array of raw talent to convey the first standalone depiction of the superhero widely recognised as the first character of African descent in American mainstream comics, Coogler’s latest stars Chadwick Boseman (Marshall) as T’Challa, the titular king of the fictional East African nation of Wakanda, who reprises his scene-stealing appearance in Captain America: Civil War as he returns to his homeland in order to address the ceremonial tradition of becoming his country’s ruler after the untimely passing of his father, King T’Chaka, but with the emergence of a long lost royalty successor, T’Challa’s reign is immediately threatened and challenged, resulting in the possibility of detrimental effects to the outside world that the Wakandan way of life has always refused to become an integral part of.
With eye-widening spectacle in abundance, a successful blend of drama and humour, and a cultural exploration unlike any world before it, Coogler’s latest is one of the most fist-pumping releases in the MCU, a joyous ride of popcorn entertainment with an array of substance and depth, with Coogler’s movie undeniably the most thematic based superhero release since Nolan’s 2008 masterpiece, The Dark Knight. Working on a script by both Coogler and Joe Robert Cole, Black Panther explores a wide range of captivating ideas, beginning with T’Challa’s sudden rise to power and moving through notions of power sharing, the isolation from the perils of the outside world and with the introduction of Michael B. Jordan’s (Creed) physically imposing, Erik “Killmonger” Stevens, societal comments regarding the empowerment of the powerless in a world overran with tyrannical rulings and unjust treatment of the voiceless. Celebrating the world of Wakanda in gorgeously designed detail after only being passingly mentioned throughout previous Marvel releases, the visual splendour of the country and the exploration of otherworldly technology is thoroughly entertaining and indulgent, with Letitia Wright’s (Black Mirror) Princess Shuri essentially a hipper, suavely comical Q to Boseman’s Bond-esque hero figure, with a superbly measured action set piece in South Korea demonstrating the blockbuster scale of tools the people of Wakanda are used to and reluctant to let go.
With Andy Serkis (War For The Planet Of The Apes) fleshing out his role as the ruthless arms dealer and all round nasty piece of work, Ulysses Klaue, after his minor stint in Age of Ultron, the character’s hatred of Wakandan privilege and greedy need for the power of vibranium, the strongest metal on Earth and the core of Captain America’s indestructible shield, allows for the introduction of Jordan’s Killmonger, the primary antagonist of the piece whose hidden familial ties and lust for revenge sets him on a path of destruction and idealistic plans of world changing possibilities, a narrative point which aside from failing to adhere to the bog standard cliche of world domination is too a scheme which remarkably does seem inherently understandable, offering a conflicting battle between who and what is truly on the side of what can be deemed sufficiently right or wrong. With the CGI at times a tad iffy and an opening twenty minutes which somewhat disjoints the pacing of the action which follows, Black Panther is no means a superhero masterpiece, but with an organic cultural sensibility which opens the door to engaging and overly exciting new characters and a empowered outlook on the Wakandan way of life in which the most brave and bad-ass just happens to be led by The Walking Dead’s Danai Gurira as Okoye, an actress so brilliant in last year’s All Eyez on Me, Coogler’s addition to the Marvel franchise is a riveting and overly cool action adventure, and with Infinity War to come, 2018’s superhero calendar has started with a superhero sized bang.
Overall Score: 8/10
“We Got A Big Platform, Man. Use That Platform To Make A Change…”
Being in complete ignorance of most things hip-hop, rap and the late 1980’s, early 1990’s wave of prominent American gangsta music, my expectations heading into All Eyez on Me, a biographical dramatisation of Californian rapper Tupac Shakur, is muddled to say the least. On the one hand, the surprising critical success of Straight Outta Compton, a similarly biographical drama of rap sensation, N.W.A, has somewhat made me quietly optimistic for yet another effectively played cinematic treat, yet on the other, my complete inability to name probably even the most famous of Tupac tracks probably doesn’t exactly make me part of the top-end target audiences for a film which is bound to succeed in the eyes of many. Whilst director Benny Boom succeeds in terms of casting, with lead star Demetrius Shipp Jr. being a dead ringer for the fallen rap star, All Eyez on Me is a flawed, overlong and genuinely quite confusing drama, one which fails to live up to the sharp, dangerous power of a film such as Straight Outta Compton but does succeed on some levels due to some dedicated performances from many of its’ relatively unknown leading stars.
Amidst a ridiculous amount of annoying fade-out edits which not only ruin the fundamental storytelling throughout the drama but makes George Lucas look like the master of the long-held camera shot, All Eyez on Me suffers from being a tale which ultimately seems designed only for fanboys of the music genre it is attempting to portray, using on-screen depictions of real individuals in a manner so scarcely and sparingly that the lack of characterisation results in plot threads which I inevitably struggled to keep up with, something of which I didn’t find in Straight Outta Compton. Add into the matter a jarring level of misogyny in terms of the treatment of most of the women characters on-screen, Boom’s film is somewhat anchored in place by a star-in-the-making performance from lead Shipp Jr., whilst The Walking Dead’s Danai Gurira is also rather exceptional as Afeni Shakur, Tupac’s inspirational mother. With the film’s 140 minute runtime, it comes as no surprise that the film does begin to wander in places, but the seedy and daring subject matter at the heart of the true story is interesting enough to warrant being viewed by even the most trivial of rap fans, if using the film only to garner a brief understanding on the complexities of rap’s leading icon.