What director Ryan Coogler brings to the MCU with Black Panther
At the time of its release, Captain America: Civil War was probably the most Earth-shattering film in the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe. The Avengers were divided and scattered to the winds ahead of the long-awaited Avengers: Infinity War, plus your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man was finally making his debut with a brand new Peter Parker in continuity with all the other Marvel Studios movies.
There was another, even more integral introduction, however; actor Chadwick Boseman’s Black Panther was revealed to the world in the film, and he had one of the most important narratives in the movie which further expanded the reach of the MCU. Black Panther was the secret weapon of the Phase Three opener, and his solo movie will be Marvel’s ace in the hole for the foreseeable future.
Marvel needed a special vision to bring the world of the Black Panther to the big screen. The studio has a habit of taking chances on their filmmakers, hiring creators that have only made one or two movies, which are typically a fraction of a Marvel movie’s budget. For Black Panther, the choice was clear. Filmmaker Ryan Coogler was making splashes with every film he released, starting with Fruitvale Station in 2013 and the Rocky sequel/spin-off Creed in 2015. It was an easy decision.
“We kind of watched ‘Creed’ and said ‘that guy,’” producer Nate Moore tells us on the set of Black Panther. “Then we hunted him down and made him say yes.
Moore went on to say that getting the filmmaker to sign on to the project wasn’t as easy as simply offering him the keys to the kingdom.
“To Ryan’s credit, he obviously knew the character and wanted to do the movie but only wanted to do the movie if he felt like it was going to be something that would have integrity, that at the end of the day he felt good about as a filmmaker and that’s what we wanted as well. I think Marvel has a reputation, earned or not, as being a difficult place for filmmakers. Once Ryan came in and met us all and heard what we had to say about the character and process-wise, I think he felt really comfortable.”
Speaking about his relationship with the director, star Chadwick Boseman broke it down as follows. “They put us together like, have you ever dated somebody and somebody was like ‘You’re really going to like this person?’ It’s kind of like that.”
He went on to say that the pair share nearly identical ideas about the character of Black Panther, but like any good relationship, the differences are what bring them back together.
“We have very similar views about what things should be like and the things that we usually have a difference of opinion about it’s so minute… We’re constantly building on each other, so it’s been a good marriage so far.”
A frequent point in the development of Marvel Studios’ movies has been the inspiration they’re pulling from with the new film. Captain America: The Winter Soldier was inspired by political thrillers like Three Days of the Condor, while Spider-Man: Homecoming was clearly constructed with John Hughes movies in mind. At first Marvel was thinking about Black Panther as their version of a James Bond movie, a “big, globetrotting epic” as Moore puts it, and while Coogler agreed, he had another movie in mind too: The Godfather.
“When I say ‘Godfather,’ it’s the idea that it’s very much a story about family and a story about an organization where new leadership is taking place,” Moore says. “And much like ‘The Godfather,’ you have to fight for things, right? And they’re all vying for power and in this case, it’s power over Wakanda. I think Killmonger sees Wakanda as something that could be used differently than it currently is in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and that puts him directly at odds with T’Challa.”
Erik Killmonger, the main villain of the film, is played by Michael B. Jordan, Coogler’s unofficial lucky charm who he hasn’t made a feature film without. Jordan says that Coogler brings the sensibilities of the other two films they’ve made together in Black Panther.
“I think one of Ryan’s strengths is that he always finds the real moments, even in the sci-fi or larger-than-life atmosphere and environment,” Jordan says of his director’s approach to action. “There are a lot of weapons and you’re also using a lot of hand-to-hand combat and stuff like that, so there’s a lot more action, so to speak. Just trying to find the realness in the larger-than-life Marvel universe. I think that’s something he’s definitely striving for.”
Academy Award winner Lupita Nyong’o, who plays the “War Dog” Nakia, echoed these sentiments while also noting that Coogler is incredibly collaborative and responsive with his actors.
“He has the mind of a fighter in a way that I really need. Because sometimes I’m like ‘I don’t know what a fighter would do?’ So to have someone who has that instinct has been very, very helpful.”
For just his third feature film, Coogler has assembled a who’s who of actors and actresses for the film, itself historic for being the first black-led superhero film from Marvel Studios, and not a one will be squandered.
“Much like ‘Civil War,’ you want to give everyone a moment or a beat or a mini arc so you don’t feel like you’re wasting anyone,” Moore assures us. “I think Ryan and Joe Robert Cole (screenwriter) have done that.”
Black Panther not only sees the return of Chadwick Boseman as the title hero with Lupita Nyong’o and Michael B. Jordan, but also Danai Gurira (The Walking Dead), Martin Freeman (The Hobbit, Sherlock), Daniel Kaluuya (Get Out), Letitia Wright (Black Mirror), Winston Duke (Person of Interest), with Academy Award nominee Angela Bassett (What’s Love Got to Do with It), with Academy Award winner Forest Whitaker (The Last King of Scotland), and Andy Serkis (War for the Planet of the Apes). Marvel themselves couldn’t believe they landed this cast.
“Even we were shocked with the caliber of cast. Truthfully,” Moore said. “We went after some people and we thought, ‘There’s no way they’re going to want to do it but they did. I think a big part of that was Ryan and I think a big part of that was the subject matter.”
Black Panther arrives in theaters February 16.