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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 20 September 2018

Film review: Ryan Coogler has redrawn superhero boundaries with 'Black Panther'

Coogler has taken Marvel's already high bar and lifted it immeasurably

Lupita Nyong'o and Chadwick Boseman in 'Black Panther'. Courtesy Marvel
Lupita Nyong'o and Chadwick Boseman in 'Black Panther'. Courtesy Marvel

The Black Panther first appeared in an issue of Marvel's X-Men in July 1966. Three months later, in October, the Black Panther movement, of revolutionary race politics fame, was formed in the face of police oppression in California, and would spread to be one of the defining protagonists in the (still) ongoing struggle for racial equality in the land of the free. No pressure on Ryan Coogler (Creed) bringing the clawed super hero and his alter ego, the fictional African nation of Wakanda's King T'Challa to the big screen then?

Coogler could have delivered a polemic, and at points, particularly through Michael B Jordan's Killmonger, whose closing line somehow manages to be one of the most poignant in recent cinema history despite taking place in a fictional uber hi-tech utopia, after a typically rumbunctious super hero rumble, it is. But Coogler has done so much more with this film.

Black Panther is part Michael Bay action extravaganza, part Ken Loach political diatribe, part James Gunn wacky Marvel caper, part Francis Ford Coppola visual epic, part Martin Scorsese unusual family drama, and yet somehow still more than the sum of its already impressive parts.

T'Challa is the king of third world Wakanda. This isn't your average third world nation, though. Beneath the canopy of trees, and away from the prying eyes of Westerners such as Martin Freeman's CIA agent Everett K Ross, lies a hyper-advanced civilisation powered by the otherwise unknown element of Vibranium. Vibranium powers the transport, the health care, the education of Wakanda's citizens, the military, and even Black Panther's rather nifty suit. It's also a not-so-subtle metaphor for the stolen riches of a continent under colonialism, Wakanda's little secret, and the reason the nation attempts to exist in a benign form of North Korea-style isolation.

Of course, in the modern age, no one can ever be truly isolated – just ask Kim Jong Un as the unified Korean team does its lap of honour at the Winter Olympics, or Donald Trump, who recently discovered his country is party to a variety of free trade agreements he doesn't like.

When the outside world comes stampeding into Wakanda, courtesy of the Vibranium-stealing Andy Serkis, seemingly loving the opportunity to act without CGI assistance as the villainous Ulysees Klaue, a dramedy of epic proportions featuring betrayal, revenge, love, hate, politics and more is triggered, and the tiny nation is forced to reassess its position in the world, while its king is forced to reassess his relationship with himself.

Black Panther, with no exaggeration, has done what the best comic books have been doing for years – completely reset the way that “Joe the Plumber” looks at the world. With a strong cast of largely black actors, and an even stronger cast of female black actors headed up by Nyongo's spy Nakia, Letitia Wright's Q-like royal sibling Shuri and Angela Bassett's suitably regal royal matriarch Ramonda, supporting the Bosewell/Jordan rivalry, whether consciously or not (but probably consciously) Black Panther becomes the screen embodiment of both #Oscarssowhite and #Metoo. Yet it does so while remaining firmly within the boundaries of a highly entertaining super hero yarn. It's Michael Moore with a cape, and without the patronising tone. I'm not generally one for tipping super hero movies for Oscars, especially in February. But if I was ever likely to, I think my moment has come.

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Read more:

Chadwick Boseman: why 'Black Panther' needed African accent

Watch: Official trailer drops for Avengers: Infinity War

From Iron Man to Wonder Woman: The endless love affair with superhero movies

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Black Panther
Dir: Ryan Coogler
Starring: Chadwick Boseman, Michael B Jordan, Lupita Nyong'o
Five stars

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