Marvel’s Black Panther is more than an incredible film. It, like Wonder Woman, shows that, not only can minority-focused superhero movies work, they can be uplifting and inspiring works of art for those who don’t normally find those emotions in Marvel movies (or superhero movies in general for that matter).
Since the film just came out a week ago, this review will be kept spoiler free.
The movie is quite a romp. It takes place a week after the end of Captain America: Civil War. In the wake of his father’s death, the protagonist T’Challa must take on the mantle of king of Wakanda and the new Black Panther, the secret warrior protector of Wakanda. The film follows T’Challa in the following days, dealing with the responsibilities of being king.
While this is happening, the arms dealer Ulysses Klaue (the man who sold Ultron stolen Vibranium in Avengers: Age of Ultron), working together with a new antagonist, steals a weapon made of Vibranium from a museum in London. Here, we begin to learn about this new antagonist, Erik “Killmonger” Stevens, and how his background relates to Wakanda (after all, how did he know there was Vibranium in the museum?).
Marvel’s so-called “villain problem” is pleasantly absent in this film. Unlike the many other forgettable villains in the MCU (really, how many people could name the villain of Thor: The Dark World without googling it?) Killmonger is a strong, deep, complex character. His motivations are very clearly explained without being overtly simple, and his actions logically reflect those motivations. Through Michael B. Jordan’s incredible acting, he’s a wonderful balance of sympathetic and menacing, relatable and hateable. He adds an intensity to the story that keeps the stakes high and the conflict interesting.
Though the story may be familiar (maybe to the point of being derivative), it is executed in a way that feels fresh and fun. Despite its two hour, fifteen minute runtime, it never drags. The action scenes in particular are really fun. I felt like a little kid again, getting excited to the point of giddiness as I watched Black Panther fight his way through a group of bad guys.
Through the story and different characters, the movie explores and vocalizes a number of themes and issues, some that are starkly relevant and somewhat controversial. The benefits and drawbacks of isolationism, the responsibilities of those who have to help those who have not, revenge from the oppressed against oppressors, and the extent of loyalty to a leader are all ideas that are discussed between different characters. The way these discussions are held is very smartly written, delivered through dialogue that is natural and sounds real and convincing.
Speaking of real and convincing, the performances by all of the actors were very good. Chadwick Boseman (T’Challa) was strong and regal, a commanding presence on-screen, while still being kind and caring; he plays the part of king very well. Lupita Nyong’o plays Nakia, a War Dog (undercover spy for Wakanda) and T’Challa’s ex. Nyong’o portrays Nakia as a strong woman. It’s clear from their back and forth that, despite being ex’s, T’Challa and Nakia still care for each other deeply. This relationship is made to feel complex and rich, and is delivered perfectly through the actors’ performances.
Letitia Wright plays Shuri, T’Challa’s younger sister and head of science and research in Wakanda. I absolutely love this character. Shuri is a smart character (probably the smartest person in the MCU), and Wright shows this, not through stereotypical, nonsensical techno-babble like every other “smart scientist” character, but through witty, snarky banter. Now, there is a moment in the film where there is a little bit of that techno-babble, but she doesn’t deliver it like the other character is supposed to understand this complex technology. She explains this technology in an uplifting way; she’s teaches the other character about this fascinating new concept and she is happy when they understand it.
Another particularly good character is Okoye, portrayed by Danai Gurira. She is the leader of the all-female Dora Milaje tribe, protectors of Wakanda. She is also the general of the Wakandan military. She is strong, and cares about one thing above all else: Wakanda. Even when things begin to go south and conflict arises, she stays loyal to the throne. This loyalty is admirable, and it is interesting to see how this loyalty is tested through conflict.
One of the biggest highlights of the movie was the soundtrack. Produced by Kendrick Lamar, the music falls primarily under the genres of contemporary R&B and hip-hop. And, being that the music was produced by Kendrick (aka unequivocally the best rapper alive right now), all of the songs are really great. I’ve been listening to the album in days after seeing the movie, and I enjoy it a lot. Not every song is used in the movie, but in the parts where they are used, they enhance the tone of the scene, perfectly complimenting the visual elements with corresponding audio tidbits.
Black Panther currently stands as having the fifth highest opening weekend of all time, the highest opening of a Marvel movie behind The Avengers. On my personal rating, the movie is a 9/10 (a 9/10, for me, is a movie that may be perfect, it just isn’t my favorite in a particular genre)(for those wondering, my 10/10 MCU movie would be Spiderman: Homecoming). It’s fun, it’s smart, it’s complex and wonderful. Everyone should go see this movie while it’s still in theatres.