‘He is an avenger,’ intones a priest at the beginning of ‘Game of Thrones’ director Brian Kirk’s debut feature, ‘21 Bridges’. It’s hard not to crack a smile at the in-joke. The film’s lead is Chadwick Boseman – aka Black Panther – and it’s the first post-‘Avengers: Endgame’ project (as producers) for directors Anthony and Joe Russo.
While you’re waiting for someone to snap their fingers and make half the cast disappear, a heist gets bungled by two crooks and NYPD detective Andre Davis (Boseman) is leading a manhunt for the pair who gunned down eight cops. Boseman lends him a chivalrous quality, doggedly clinging to what’s right in a world that has gone so wrong. It’s the kind of role Gary Cooper used to play, albeit in a dusty western town rather than gritty New York.
Harking back to cop thrillers like ‘We Own the Night’ and ‘Training Day’ (but better than both), ‘21 Bridges’ gets all the key elements right – high-stakes heists, breakneck car chases, and a plot that keeps you guessing – and its themes ring with political resonance. White cops fire on unarmed black men, and the plot neatly touches on police brutality and systematic racism.
As Black Panther, Boseman is a hero in spandex; here he’s a hero with a badge and gun, who looks the devil in the eye, and stares down the evil in the system. Gary Cooper would definitely approve.