Review: Black Panther

Black Panther, the 18th film in Marvel’s Cinematic Universe, may be Marvels biggest and boldest superhero film to date. Director Ryan Coogler and an all-star cast team up to tell T’Challa’s story and bring Wakanda to life.

T’Challa’s (Chadwick Boseman) journey picks up sometime after the events of 2016’s Captain America: Civil War. In the wake of his father’s death, T’Challa is heir to the throne as King of Wakanda and the mantle of Black Panther, protector of Wakanda.

As King, T’Challa faces internal and external ideas of what Wakanda should do to help other countries and people in need. Do they use their resources? Do they stay insulated and continue with traditions that have served them well for generations? Once the world knows what Wakanda is, what will that mean for the nation?

It’s not long before Erik Killmonger (Michael B Jordan) shows up and challenges T’Challa to the throne. More interesting than the physical challenge Killmonger brings, is his questioning of Wakanda’s way of life.

Black Panther has all the elements fans are used to seeing in their superhero movies – there’s lots of action, fight sequences, a car chase, and enough vibranium based technology to make Elon Musk faint. What sets Black Panther apart from other superhero films are the topical themes interwoven through the characters journeys, starting with Killmonger.

Klaue (Andy Serkis) makes an appearance as a live action cartoon villain – 80% of his dialogue involves a combination of cackling and laughing. After the big action piece in South Korea, the real villain takes center stage – Erik Killmonger. Michael B Jordan plays the best Marvel villain since Loki. He’s absolutely incredible. What makes him so terrifying is that he’s not necessarily wrong. Murdering people isn’t the best way to get people on his side, but he has a plan and has a legitimate gripe with Wakanda. Michael B. Jordan plays Killmonger with a level of charisma and charm that makes him likable and one of the most multilayered villains the MCU has seen.

When the story starts, T’Challa is a king searching himself to see how he should rule. Once Killmonger arrives, there’s a different journey for T’Challa and that’s when Boseman shines brightest. Boseman gives a moving performance once T’Challa is forced to face himself and confront the sins of the past. He’s compassionate, strong, and protecting the people he loves.

The heart of Black Panter is the women surrounding T’Challa. Shuri (Letitia Wright) is the Q to T’Challa’s James Bond. She’s a genius who uses vibranium to design technology for Wakanda. Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o) is a “war dog” sent to spy on the outside world and report back. Okoye (Dania Gurira) is the head of the Dora Milaje, the all-female Special Forces committed to protecting the King and they’re loyal to the throne. And his mother Ramonda (Angela Bassett), mother of Wakanda. Two things stand out from these characters – 1) they’re all incredibly strong and never run from a fight. 2) – these are four different archetypes of women. Each of them has different ways they can help T’Challa and save Wakanda.

None of the women fall into the “damsel in distress” trope. They’re all ready to fight and are  as important as what happens in the story as T’Challa is. Even with T’Challa at the center of he story, the women hold the film together. Letitia Wright is the breakout star of the film as Shuri. She has great comedic timing and delivers some of the best lines.

The big action set pieces are fine. Some of the quick camera movements make them a little hard to track. The best action comes courtesy of the trial-by-combat scenes. Those scenes are beautiful and brutal at the same time.

The final fight between T’Challa and Killmonger could be copy and pasted form any other superhero movie from the past – two CGi characters tumbling through the air, leading to one big final fight. The best part of their fight isn’t the actual fight but the conversation that takes place after. Killmonger takes center stage to talk about and reiterate how he feels. That moment at the end is the climax of the fight between the two characters.

If you strip away all the action, CGI, and vibranium suits, what’s left is what makes Black Panther great. There is an ongoing conversation, through dialogue and action, about immigration, foreign aid, what you should do vs. what you could do, and the plight of African Americans who feel disconnected from their history. Killmonger is a character who looking for a connection to his roots and he feels forgotten. He carries a pain with him that many African-Americans feel living in a country that constantly dismisses and demonizes them. Killmonger’s rampage is a plea for help.

Ryan Coogler does a masterful job delivering one of Marvel Studios best movies. It’s a compelling story that’s about one man’s journey to be King, another man’s journey to liberation, and a nation in transition. Black Panther is a beautiful, bright, and bold – Wakanda Forever!

Grade: A-