Ryan Coogler is, frankly, the only choice Marvel could make for Black Panther.
Creed, which landed at the number four spot on my end of the year top ten list, is one of those films I've seen several times now and each time, I see something else about it that I find impressive. Coogler made a strong debut with Fruitvale Station, but his technical work on Creed is on a whole different level. What strikes me most about his work is how deceptively simple his visual plan for the film was, because there are some really sophisticated sequences that audiences most likely never think about twice in terms of how they were created. There are invisible visual effects that audiences didn't register at all, and there are some terrific bits of action staging during the fights.
More than anything, though, there's no fat on the film, and it has a canny sense of pop storytelling. Not every indie director can make the jump to making the kinds of movies that Marvel is making right now, but Coogler seems ideally suited for it. If he can bring the same intense belief in the world of Wakanda that he brings to Rocky's Philadelphia, then Black Panther has a chance to be a fantastic piece of pop fun. That's one of the tricks of the movie that people haven't been discussing during this whole “find the director” process, and for the last few months, Coogler's name has been the only serious name in contention for the job. It's been a foregone conclusion, but not officially made official in an official capacity until last night, when Marvel sent out a quick press release with a few quotes from Kevin Feige.
“We are fortunate to have such an esteemed filmmaker join the Marvel family,” said producer Kevin Feige. “The talents Ryan showcased in his first two films easily made him our top choice to direct Black Panther. Many fans have waited a long time to see Black Panther in his own film, and with Ryan we know we”ve found the perfect director to bring T”Challa”s story to life.”
One of the things that is coming into focus in this Phase Three of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is that they're doing a lot of world-building. Thor: Ragnarok is going to take place largely off of Earth, and should feel more like Guardians Of The Galaxy than Iron Man 3. Bringing in Taika Waititi is a really bold choice, but when I look at What We Do In The Shadows, I see a self-contained world with its own rules that makes sense and convincingly sells that reality. I'm excited to see what James Gunn does with Guardians Vol. 2 with the confidence and the support that the success of the first film offers. Same thing with Peyton Reed on the Ant-Man and the Wasp. If anyone's got permission to push the boundaries of what we've seen in these movies so far, it's Scott Derrickson on Doctor Strange.
All of these filmmakers are being tasked to expand the palette of the MCU, and Coogler's being given one of the most exciting jobs, defining Wakanda. While Derrickson's got the other dimensions to play with and Gunn's got outer space and Waititi gets to expand Asgard's geography, Coogler gets to build this technologically advanced nation that stands separate from the rest of the world, a science-fiction kingdom ruled by this charismatic figure. There's never been a film like it built around an African hero, and again… what makes Coogler the right choice is looking at how he handled the text and subtext of Creed. Taking Sylvester Stallone's Rocky series and shifting focus to make one of the best explorations of what it's like to grow up as a young black man in 2015 America wrestling with the legacy of an absentee father is brilliant, and it earns the underdog status that would be impossible if Rocky were still the lead character of the film.
T'Challa is a character who shares qualities with many of the heroes already established in the MCU, but it's the way that qualities are combined that makes T'Challa such an interesting addition to the roster. The wealth of Tony Stark, the regal bloodline of Thor, the scientific acumen of Bruce Banner… and yet he's also got an independent streak that makes him stand apart from the affairs of the rest of the world.
It's exciting that Chadwick Boseman gets to take a running start at the character in Captain America: Civil War so that by the time he and Coogler start work on Black Panther, they're going to have some very strong ideas about who T'Challa is. I'm glad to see Coogler doing this instead of a Creed 2, and I want to see what happens after Black Panther for him as well. I want to see what original stories he has to tell. Is he going to make exclusively big canvass films after this, or is he going to tell personal stories as well? What kind of ambitions does he have as a storyteller?
I just know that based on the way he handled Creed this year, I'm convinced he's someone whose stories I want to hear, and it feels like Marvel is the winner here, catching the right guy at the right moment on his way up, and they should benefit enormously when he delivers something startling and new.
Black Panther is in theaters February 16, 2018.