This African superhero ruled the box office, but is he also worthy of being crowned the king of 4K?
The latest Marvel movie to arrive on 4K Blu-ray gives us our first glimpse of the Black Panther's home world of Wakanda, after the character debuted in Captain America: Civil War. A huge hit at the box office, and an equally huge discussion point on social media due to its almost exclusive focus on black characters, it's ultimately a bit hit-and-miss from a simple filmmaking perspective.
It certainly does its job of fleshing out Black Panther's place in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and it introduces some great new characters – especially the Dora Milaje, Wakanda's army of female warriors. It also delivers one of Marvel's most effective villains to date in Michael B. Jordan's tragic Erik Killmonger, and the narrative covers some surprisingly complicated themes, ranging from black history through to questions of nationhood and global interventionism – all, generally, without being preachy or one-dimensional.
Unfortunately, this combination of a fascinating supporting cast and complex adversary leaves the titular superhero (Chadwick Boseman) feeling a little under-developed at times. It also doesn't help that the movie's action scenes are cumbersome compared with the slickest Marvel films, while some of the VFX work appears particularly flimsy.
Picture: Black Panther was predominantly shot and finished at 3.4K. While this doesn't quite make it a full 4K experience, it gets closer than most, and this is obvious with much of the 4K Blu-ray picture.
Detail levels are frequently outstanding, pulling out incredible amounts of texture in skin tones, costumes and the film's 'real' (as opposed to CG) backdrops. Digital shooting techniques mean there's no grain either, making it this a distinctly clean and crisp experience.
Well, to a point. A slight problem with Black Panther's visual clarity and purity is that it ruthlessly exposes some of the VFX. Elements such as the war rhinos and some of the Wakandan backdrops don't appear to have been rendered at the same resolution as the live action footage. They therefore look a bit rough and ready by comparison, especially during largescale outdoor shots.
On the plus side, there's some stellar HDR work here. The picture's contrast is immense, with deep but still fully detailed dark tones at one end of the spectrum, and intense skies and artificial light sources at the other. The high contrast is joined by aggressively expanded colouring, which enhances Wakanda's rich environments, Vibranium-powered weapons and stunning costumes. In this regard the SDR 1080p Blu-ray looks neutered by comparison.
As with Disney's other recent UHD titles, Black Panther is provided in Dolby Vision as well as the standard HDR10 format. The HDR10 master is so good that Dolby Vision's advantages only really come to the fore on a handful of occasions, particularly the contrast-rich Busan car chase. The extra visual quality of these moments more than justifies Disney's Dolby Vision efforts, though.
Picture rating: 4.5/5
Audio: While Black Panther's 4K imagery might be generally glorious, its audio is not. Not for the first time with a Disney UHD Blu-ray release, it features an exclusive Dolby Atmos soundtrack that sounds strangely compressed. This is especially noticeable at the lower end of the audio spectrum, as the film's many 'impact' moments – charging war rhinos, Vibranium-powered ground punches and so on – just don't land with the floor-shaking impact you'd expect. Treble details, too, seem rather muted and rolled off, and it's a soundmix that'll have you cranking your system louder than you usually would to unlock its potential. Dialogue is never hard to discern, however.
A lack of slam and sizzle is at least countered by Dolby Atmos's traditional sense of immersion. Black Panther's soundscape traverses all the channels in your speaker setup with decent regularity and effectiveness. But decent isn't the same as spectacular; rear/surround detailing sometimes sounds a little under-cooked.
Audio rating: 3.5/5
Extras: Black Panther ships with a solid set of extra features, all found on the accompanying Full HD Blu-ray. The most in-depth is a commentary track by director Ryan Coogler and production designer Hannah Beachler, which is patchy but occasionally fascinating. Joining this are around 25 minutes of featurettes exploring the people and customs of Wakanda and its place in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (all are too short to be considered indispensable); four deleted scenes that are worth a shufti; a gag reel; a roundtable discussion about the film's comic book origins; a sneak peek at Ant-Man and The Wasp; and more.
Extras rating: 3/5
We say: A stellar 4K presentation of a striking addition to Marvel’s pantheon of superhero movies, but when will Disney sort out its audio?
Black Panther, Walt Disney, Ultra HD Blu-ray & All-region BD, £37
HCC VERDICT: 3.5/5
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