• [The Daily] Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther

    By David Hudson

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    “A jolt of a movie, Black Panther creates wonder with great flair and feeling partly through something Hollywood rarely dreams of anymore: myth.” So begins Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. “Most big studio fantasies take you out for a joy ride only to hit the same exhausted story and franchise-expanding beats. Not this one.” With Creed (2015), Ryan Coogler “shook the dust off the Rocky series by giving it an African-American champion played by Michael B. Jordan. For Black Panther, Mr. Coogler brought back both Mr. Jordan and some former crew members—including Rachel Morrison, the director of photography on his first feature Fruitvale Station—continuity that may help account for this movie’s intimacy and fluidity.”

    What we have here is “the best Marvel movie so far, by far,” declares IndieWire’s David Ehrlich. “Nobody has ever seen anything like Black Panther—not just an entire civilization built from the metal stuff inside Captain America’s shield, and not even just a massive superhero movie populated almost entirely by black people, but also a Marvel film that actually feels like it takes place in the real world.

    It stars Chadwick Boseman as T’Challa, “the African king who fights evildoers in the guise of a wildcat,” explains David Edelstein at Vulture. “It’s primarily set in Wakanda, described in onscreen news accounts as Africa’s poorest country. (Trump would have choice words about Wakandan immigration.) But the poverty turns out to be surface deep, literally. Under a lush cover of trees is a city both ancient and futuristic, where sonic-powered railways snake among great stone towers, the works fueled by the metal Vibranium . . . T’Challa’s do-gooder on-and-off girlfriend, Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o), is bent on crossing the border to help other imperiled African countries. Far more dangerous, though, is the aptly named militant Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan), who looks to Vibranium to power a full-scale international race war.” Black Panther is “is unusually grounded for a Marvel superhero epic, and unusually gripping.”

    The Telegraph’s Robbie Collin notes that Black Panther “is far from the first black comic-book star to get a film of his own: that would be Spawn in 1997, followed by Wesley Snipes’s Blade the following year, both of whom landed long before the genre mushroomed. Yet he is the first to lean heavily into an ethos known as Afrofuturism—very roughly speaking, an approach to science fiction and fantasy grounded in black experience and the cultures of the African continent. In music, it’s been thriving for sixty years plus, thanks to acts from Sun Ra to George Clinton and Janelle Monaé. But in film it never emerged from its niche. . . . Perhaps, that is, until now.”

    “It’s an action-adventure origin myth which plays less like a conventional superhero film and more like a radical Brigadoon or a delirious adventure by Jules Verne or Edgar Rice Burroughs,” suggests the Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw. “Those were the colonial-era mythmakers whose exoticism must surely have influenced Stan Lee and Jack Kirby when they devised the comic books in the 1960s, supplying the Afro- in the steely afrofuturism of Black Panther that generations of fans have treasured and reclaimed as an alternative to the pop culture of white America. But it’s the futurism that gives Black Panther his distinctive power.”

    “What would this film have been like if its action scenes had been cut cleanly and clearly, instead of chopped into the usual wasteful, visually confusing slice-and-dice mashup?” asks Time’s Stephanie Zacharek. “The whole thing moves a little too fast: There are so many gorgeous details—from Ruth E. Carter’s Afro-futuristic costumes to Hannah Beachler’s Emerald City-a-go-go production design—that you might find yourself wishing you could linger on certain images just a bit longer. But Black Panther is still a cut above—perhaps many cuts above—any other recent superhero movie, and some not-so-recent ones too.”

    “It starts a little slowly,” notes Matt Singer at ScreenCrush. “But then T’Challa and his crew return to Wakanda, and just about every scene from that point forward is better than the one that preceded it.” And TheWrap’s Alonso Duralde finds a good number of “thrilling moments that make the film’s occasional pacing lapses forgivable.”

    This is “a superhero movie which is part spy thriller, part all-out battle, and part social commentary,” writes Screen’s Tim Grierson, “and while all the pieces don’t always work, Black Panther is consistently propelled by tonal and thematic flourishes that break with the conventions that have defined this lucrative franchise.”

    The Hollywood Reporter’s Todd McCarthy notes that “the usual Marvel post-credits teaser reminds us that its next offering will be Avengers: Infinity War, coming May 4 and in which T'Challa/Black Panther also appears.” Peter Debruge warns of “mild spoilers” before launching into his review for Variety: “Virtually everything that distinguishes Black Panther from past Marvel pics works to this standalone entry’s advantage.” More from Rodrigo Perez (Playlist, B+), Mike Ryan (Uproxx), and Kenneth Turan (Los Angeles Times).

    Writing for Little White Lies, Callum Costello argues that “Black Panther shouldn’t be read as a film about a black superhero, but rather a black film about a superhero.”

    Last October, Tre Johnson, writing for Rolling Stone, noted that “Coogler has set out to do something with the modern black superhero that all previous iterations have fallen short of doing: making it respectable, imaginative and powerful. The Afro-punk aesthetic, the unapologetic black swagger, the miniscule appearances from non-black characters—it’s an important resetting of a standard of what’s possible around creating a mythology for a black superhero.”

    Ramin Setoodeh interviews Boseman and Coogler for the new Variety cover story, and inside, Marc Bernardin talks with Joe Robert Cole, who co-wrote the movie with Coogler, and Evan Narcisse, co-writer of Rise of Black Panther for Marvel Comics.

    Updates, 2/8: “It hasn’t even hit theaters yet and its cultural footprint is already enormous,” writes Jamil Smith in a cover story for Time. “It’s a movie about what it means to be black in both America and Africa—and, more broadly, in the world. Rather than dodge complicated themes about race and identity, the film grapples head-on with the issues affecting modern-day black life. It is also incredibly entertaining, filled with timely comedy, sharply choreographed action and gorgeously lit people of all colors.”

    Black Panther champions, and makes champions of, underserved demographics in a way that’s somehow both casual and defiant, a statement of strength that proudly insists it needed no stating to begin with,” writes Richard Lawson for Vanity Fair. “Coogler has assembled a crackerjack team of actors to be the vessels of that message—a spirited ensemble that deftly maneuvers the movie’s shifts between high drama and amiable humor.”

    Jen Yamato talks with Boseman for the Los Angeles Times: “Most African Americans have had a moment where they’re like, ‘I know I’m of African descent—but I don't have that connection.’ . . . That’s something that’s broken and has to be made whole.”

    Updates, 2/9: “This is a Marvel Studios production first and foremost,” writes Keith Uhlich for Slant, “and you're never going to forget it in light of the pro forma plotting, CG sturm und drang, and gratuitous Stan Lee cameo. Yet the external pressures surrounding the film—chiefly its status as the superhero flick involving and revolving around people of color—have kept the bean counters somewhat at bay. That, plus the fact that Coogler, who penned the screenplay with Joe Robert Cole, is able to give many things here that impassioned, obsessional tinge required of memorable, if not always masterful, art.”

    “Not since Spike Lee’s Malcolm X in 1992 has there been so much hype and hope for a movie among African-American audiences,” writes Salamishah Tillet for the New York Times. “From special group outings planned by excited fans to crowdfunding campaigns to ensure children can see it, Black Panther is shaping up to be a phenomenon.”

    Updates, 2/10: “It’s a great relief to confirm that Black Panther is genuinely worth rooting for,” writes Kristen Yoonsoo Kim in the Village Voice. “It’s only Ryan Coogler’s third feature, . . . but Black Panther is executed with the confidence of a far more experienced filmmaker. Coogler and his team have conjured a universe and fleshed out its players, one existing (honestly, thriving) in the even bigger cinematic universe that is Marvel. It’s a case of the right story landing in the right hands.”

    For Hannah Woodhead at Little White Lies, “watching Black Panther at the film’s European Premiere delivered on a promise Marvel have been making for years: You ain’t seen nothing yet.”

    “There are different theories about the real-life inspiration for Wakanda,” writes Winona Dimeo-Ediger.Ta-Nehisi Coates, who authored a reboot of the Black Panther comic series, explained his in this post for The Atlantic’s website. But the actor Chadwick Boseman, who plays Black Panther on screen, told The New York Times that Wakanda is a fictional version of ‘the Mutapa empire of 15th-century Zimbabwe.’ So how does the mythical Wakanda compare to the real-life Mutapa?” She reports for NPR.

    Update, 2/11: “Even if it had nothing else going for it, Black Panther would still be the best-looking Marvel movie yet,” writes Wendy Ide for the Observer. It “looks like a particularly excitable Sun Ra album cover. Fortunately, the film doesn’t trade on looks alone. The score, by Ludwig Göransson and Kendrick Lamar, combines primal beats with the growling purr of a pack of big cats.”

    Updates, 2/12: “Until recently,” writes Carvell Wallace in the New York Times Magazine, “most popular speculation on what the future would be like had been provided by white writers and futurists, like Isaac Asimov and Gene Roddenberry. Not coincidentally, these futures tended to carry the power dynamics of the present into perpetuity. . . . The artistic movement called Afrofuturism, a decidedly black creation, is meant to go far beyond the limitations of the white imagination. It isn’t just the idea that black people will exist in the future, will use technology and science, will travel deep into space. It is the idea that we will have won the future.”

    And for the NYT, Reggie Ugwu talks with Coogler, Boseman, Lupita Nyong’o, and Danai Gurira.

    “Twenty years before Marvel’s Black Panther, there was Blade, which the film’s black star, Wesley Snipes, took it upon himself to produce,” writes Justin Charity at the Ringer. And “the original Blade was big, it was successful, and, most importantly, it’s still great. Few comic superhero movies of the past couple decades make an origin story seem rather unlike a chore, and combat seem rather unlike a farce.”

    Slate’s Aisha Harris talks with Snipes “about the making of Blade, his vision for a Black Panther movie that never came to be, and Hollywood.” And of course, Coogler’s Black Panther. “Excited is definitely not the word,” says Snipes. “Overcome, overjoyed, clutch the pearls, I am ecstatic about it.”

    Updates, 2/14: “Out of a comic book, director Ryan Coogler crafted an important concept about how, from the unification, a post-pan-Africanist global Africanism can emerge,” writes Charles Mudede for the Stranger. “It comes down to this: black Africans and black Americans have to admit their respective failings. Once past that, a glorious future is sight. This is a fantasy. But so is much of the wealth that makes Jeff Bezos the richest man on earth. My feeling is that Coogler is much harder on black Americans than black Africans.”

    “In 1952, the psychoanalyst and revolutionary Frantz Fanon observed that in comic books, ‘the Wolf, the Devil, the Evil Spirit, the Bad Man, the Savage are always symbolized by Negroes or Indians,’” notes Jonathan W. Gray, writing for the New Republic. “Between epic set pieces and panoramic vistas Black Panther engages with the pan-Africanist theories that ultimately compelled Fanon to take up arms, joining the Algerian Liberation Front in 1955. During this time, Fanon treated Algerians tortured by the French, and came to believe that colonized peoples had the right to pursue their liberation by any means necessary. But Wakanda has never been colonized, and so interacts with the outside world with a quiet assurance that belies its supposed lack of development. Thus, Coogler’s film draws an explicit distinction between T’Challa’s acceptance of his mandate to maintain Wakanda’s isolationism, and Killmonger’s desire to disseminate Wakandan weapons to dispossessed people of African descent throughout the world, in order to foment a revolution from below. . . . This is a movie whose political theory matches its stunning special effects.”

    For Michael Sragow, writing for Film Comment, Black Panther “summons the spirit of 1966, when Marvel Comics guru Stan Lee was still soaking up influences like a super-powered sponge, then carbonating them into fizzy pop elixirs. Coogler, like the Mighty Marvel Bullpen, has guts, flair, and vitality. What his movie lacks in shape and pith it makes up for in gusto and serious make-believe along with some delicious antic interludes.”

    At RogerEbert.com, Odie Henderson declares this to be “one of the year's best films, and one that transcends the superhero genre to emerge as an epic of operatic proportions. The numerous battle sequences that are staples of the genre are present, but they float on the surface of a deep ocean of character development and attention to details both grandiose and minute. Wakanda is a fully fleshed-out, unapologetically Black universe, a world woven into a tapestry of the richest, sharpest colors and textures. Rachel Morrison’s stunning cinematography and Ruth Carter’s costumes pop so vividly that they become almost tactile. You can practically feel the fabric of the hat worn by Angela Bassett as it beams in the sunlight on the day her son becomes king.”

    For interviews with Carter, see Bryan Adams (The Credits), Tanisha C. Ford (Atlantic), and Nell Minow (RogerEbert.com).

    Minow also talks with Coogler: “‘The theme of the film is, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Each character has a different answer to that question and only one changes his answer,’ he said. The movie presents this question in a complex and nuanced way likely to leave audiences debating who really is ‘the good guy.’ ‘My favorite action movies have themes that are deep, that you can chew on, and that what we were trying to do, to make a movie that functions the way it was supposed to but also has some depth to it.’”

    Ryan Gilbey interviews Boseman for the Guardian.

    “Coogler works in political jibes, although the film strikes more deeply just by portraying its African characters as powerful in ways that have nothing to do with the intervention of white people,” writes Robert Horton in the Seattle Weekly. “The point is made. What’s missing is a sense of the sheer fun in movie-making that can energize a project like this, even one that might have more at stake than the usual superhero fare. Without that, Black Panther comes across as somewhat more dutiful than groundbreaking.”

    “Black Panther costumes—whether the character’s full raiment or just his claws and mask—are on toy store shelves,” notes Kwame Opam in the New York Times. “At best, the character get-ups speak to the enthusiastic embrace of a black superhero. At worst, they could be perceived as an unwitting form of cultural appropriation, which has in recent years become a subject of freighted discourse. What does that dual significance mean for children? And, perhaps more urgently, what does it mean for the parents who will buy the costumes for them?”

    Coogler’s first short film is “ground zero for a director whose combination of smart storytelling instincts, technical skill, and sociopolitical savvy has proved formidable in a short period of time,” writes Adam Nayman for the Ringer. “‘I admire filmmakers who let the type of story dictate the cinematic style, dictate the mise-en-scène, dictate how they approach, how they capture, how they work,’ the now-thirty-one-year-old Oakland native told The Dissolve in 2013, and that searching, intuitive sensibility, distinct from both the loose, aimless vibe of mumblecore or the suffocating formalism of micromanager-auteurs, is palpable in 2009’s Locks.

    For Vulture, Granger Willson talks with Evan Narcisse, co-writer of Marvel’s Rise of the Black Panther (4’09”).

    Updates, 2/16: “With Black Panther—brimming with female heroes like T’Challa’s personal guard the Dora Milaje, played by some of the biggest stars on the planet—a generation of young women with ravenous appetites to see themselves on screen now look to Wakanda to feed that hunger,” writes Jamie Broadnax for the TIFF Review. “For little girls everywhere, who will soon see Black women as tech-savvy, loyal-hearted, kick-ass heroes in a blockbuster film—a medium that rarely depicts us that way—this will mould who they become.” And she looks back to “the women who led the way to the Dora Milaje.”

    “Yes, Black Panther is a moment,” writes Richard Whittaker. “But in twenty years’ time (or 100 more Marvel films), when this moment has passed, it will still be the kind of resonant, rip-roaring crowd-pleaser to which all smart action films should aspire.” Also in the Austin Chronicle, Moisés Chiullán interviews Evan Narcisse.

    Jamelle Bouie for Slate: “What drives the film is its pursuit of the idea that arguably defines the superhero genre, best articulated in 1962’s Amazing Fantasy No. 15: “With great power comes great responsibility.” And what makes Black Panther unique is that it pursues this in the context of its characters and its setting. It asks not just, ‘What is T’Challa’s responsibility to Wakanda?’ but ‘What is Wakanda’s responsibility to the world?’”

    “For once in a Marvel superhero movie, the crucial action sequences aren’t designed to make us drool over the latest automatic weaponry,” writes Michael Phillips in the Chicago Tribune. “When the climax arrives, it’s not the customary battle royale of outsized, computer-generated hardware. It’s better than that; the conflict between Black Panther and Killmonger, the conciliatory king and the any-means-necessary revolutionary, is rooted in something more primal and elemental.”

    “Other superhero movies have dabbled in big ideas—the Dark Knight trilogy most notably, and the X-Men franchise to a lesser degree,” writes the Atlantic’s Christopher Orr. “But their commitments to the moral and political questions they contemplated were relatively haphazard and/or peripheral. The arguments Black Panther undertakes with itself are central to its architecture, a narrative spine that runs from the first scene to the last.”

    “Injecting a little Frantz Fanon into a $150 million comic book movie is seriously an ambitious idea that pays off so shockingly well that it elevates the entire enterprise into something that isn’t afraid to both lean into the more absurd elements of its premise (there’s even a rhino fight) and demand to be taken seriously,” writes Matt Lynch at In Review Online.

    “While Boseman does what he can with the ever-noble hero,” writes Anthony Lane in the New Yorker, “Jordan is so relaxed and so unstiff that, if you’re anything like me, you’ll wind up rooting for the baddie when the two of them battle it out. Jordan has swagger to spare, with those rolling shoulders, but there’s a breath of charm, too, all the more seductive in the overblown atmosphere of Marvel. He’s twice as pantherish as the Panther.”

    “Outside of the largely stellar cast, much of Black Panther’s success results directly from how rich the textures within the world of Wakanda feel,” writes Conor O’Donnell at the Film Stage. “Any film is the culmination of efforts onscreen and off, but every corner of the frame, and the characters that inhabit it, boast such a complete realization that it’s clear Coogler has impeccable taste in the talent that surrounds him.”

    “In 1971, Don McGregor was a proofreader at Marvel Comics,” writes Abraham Riesman, introducing his interview for Vulture. Now, T’Challa “and his film are already cultural icons. And it’s entirely possible that none of it would have happened without McGregor.”

    Updates, 2/17: “The temptation of black radicalism, of taking up arms against oppressive white-supremacist powers, is present in Black Panther,” writes the New Yorker’s Richard Brody. “But its heroes, though entirely sympathetic to the needs and demands of the oppressed, reject it, favoring improvement over revenge, a quest for justice over a new round of injustices. They do so not merely out of the goodness of their hearts. Rather, if the heroes of Wakanda reject the revolutionary radicalism of Killmonger, it’s because they see it as merely the obverse of the white radicalism that’s in real-life power now.”

    “Each of Coogler’s three films has been concerned with the legacy of fathers,” notes Kelli Weston, writing for Sight & Sound, “His assured debut Fruitvale Station (2013) unfolds the final day in the life of Oscar Grant III—killed by a California transit police officer in 2009—and much of the film’s emotional weight resides in the wide, unknowing eyes of the daughter Grant will leave behind. Creed (2015) and now Black Panther both follow protagonists burdened by history and haunted by a looming inheritance, men who set out to forge their paths in the name of fallen fathers, soon revealed to be not quite heroes but deeply complicated figures whose sins endure beyond the grave to trouble their sons. How these sons ultimately reckon with the humanity of the men they have made into legends and how powerfully they allow the past to guide their steps will prove the measure of their character.”

    Black Panther and Kendrick Lamar’s music are both inheritors of long lines of race-conscious creativity and symbolism that still feel sprung full-grown from the right-now,” writes Carl Wilson for Slate, “and even five years ago it would have been hard to picture either of them summiting the box office and the pop charts. But in some ways the marriage turns out to be even more perfect.” Wilson elaborates.

    Updates, 2/18: “There is a fundamental dissonance in the term ‘African-American,’ two feuding ancestries conjoined by a hyphen,” writes Jelani Cobb for the New Yorker. “That dissonance—a hyphen standing in for the brutal history that intervened between Africa and America—is the subject of Black Panther. . . . The film is not about world domination by an alien invasion or a mad cabal of villains but about the implications of a version of Western domination that has been with us so long that it has become as ambient as the air.”

    Andrew Durbin has put together a collection of related reading from the frieze archives.

    Ta-Nehisi Coates joins Wesley Morris and Jenna Wortham to discuss Black Panther on a terrific episode of Still Processing (60’57”).

    For news and items of interest throughout the day, every day, follow @CriterionDaily.

3 comments

  • By thevoid99
    February 06, 2018
    06:59 PM

    Will this film be the first from the MCU to get a Criterion release? It would be awesome though I think a box set of each phase would be ideal. They do manage to make films that at least be more than just superhero/comic book films.
    Reply
    • By Nick Inman
      February 07, 2018
      07:34 PM

      I respectfully, but very strongly, disagree. Marvel movies, at best, feel exactly the same as any other generic comic book movie (except the first Guardians of the Galaxy, which even I'll admit was very good and refreshing, but still not CC worthy), and at worst, feel like feature-length trailers for the next generic comic book movie. Maybe Black Panther will shake things up like GotG did, but personally I think this cashgrab franchise should stay as far away from the Collection as possible.