Starring: Chadwick Boseman, Michael Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o
Directed by:Ryan Coogler
Rating: ** ½(2 and a half stars)
At one point in this Marvel of nature, a tribe chief looks on a scene of courtly strife played out at that typically high octave that we soon recognize to be the chosen scale for this fierce lineage –proud drama, and he says with a yawn, “Are you done?”
This is what I wanted to ask too for a very long time in the course of this impressively mounted but finally self-defeating story of a Man who would be King. If only the enemies let him.Black Panther is filled with a stirring synthesis of primitivism and futurism. While the prince-hero dialogues with the ghost of his father move us with their fidelity to the drama, you cannot overlook the scent of mysticism that pervades the exiled prince T’Challa(Chadwick Boseman)’s search for his throne in the kingdom of Wakanda.
There is an intriguing element of a grandmother’s fairytale interwoven into the galactic flights that the narrative intermittently takes.Indeed the narrative works only when it stays grounded. Attempts to transform T’Challa into a super-hero in a skintight armor-like suit just don’t work.
The hand-to-hand combats that break out periodically on the edge of torrential waterfalls will remind you of S S Rajamouli’sBaahubali while the much of the plot unfolds like an uneasy alliance between Spiderman and James Bond. T’Challa’s inventor-sister Shuri(Letitia Wright) is unmistakably a tribute to Bond.
Black Panther does covey a certain amount of derivative charm and, more importantly, humor as T Challa takes on his cousin N’Jadaka(Michael Jordan) who, please note, is not all bad. In fact there is a celebrated atonement sequence for the half-hearted villain at the end.
There are lots of characters here who change their minds quickly, as though to allow the script writer the freedom to shuffle cards in an epic display of royal arrogance. It is interesting if not entirely satisfying to see Andrew Serkis who played the ape in Planet Of The Apes here cast as a ruthless smirky music-imbibing arms dealer. He is the only irredeemably evil character in the plot. The others are steeped in a moral ambivalence that is designed to make the all-Black cast dazzle with its race-free virtuosity.
While it is commendable that so many talented Black actors congregate to whip up a frenzied homage to the spirit of super-heroism, and some of the fiercely battle-borne warrior women characters are pleasurably feisty, the film wastes the beautiful Lupita Nyong’o as a princess in exile.
This is a fiercely mystical costume drama where guns are laughed at for being primitive, swords and gleaming blades are seen as emblems of the future.While the narrative’s belief in the power of traditional ancestry to take the world forward is endearing The Black Panther ends up looking like a pastiche of impressively staged combats punctuated by self-deprecating giggles.