WARNING: Minor spoilers included in this review.
Captain America: Civil War released in theaters, and fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe have already felt the weight of what it’s left for the franchise. It drove the Avengers apart, but it also gave them new allies. Spider-Man may have given audiences an entertaining and fun adaptation, Black Panther ups the ante in every way imaginable. If you thought that Marvel was done world-building for its solo outings, you were wrong.
While Doctor Strange introduced audiences to the Sanctums and the astral plane, and Spider-Man: Homecoming gave us insight into what happened after the Battle of New York, the latest entry in the franchise finally shows us the majestic landscape of Wakanda. We learn more about the vibranium meteorite that crashed and the development that Wakanda underwent after the said occurrence. We learn about the rules of the country, how they treat traitors, and how they treat the legacy of their ancestors. This is a welcome change from the massive set-up for Infinity War many recent MCU films have focused on.
Black Panther begins approximately a few days after the events of Civil War. Zemo has been incarcerated, courtesy of T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman), who is now on his way back to Wakanda, where he will be crowned king in his father’s place. After being given an opportunity to apprehend an enemy of the country (Andy Serkis), he is faced with a challenger to the throne: Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan), a former mercenary with an ax to grind with the new king of Wakanda. T’Challa must juggle the needs of his people, along with carrying his father’s legacy.
First things first, Black Panther‘s cast is absolutely stellar. Boseman is charming as the titular superhero, while Jordan is the best MCU villain in a long time (more on that in a bit). Danai Gurira’s Okoye is a total badass, giving the audience a new hero to look forward to in Infinity War. But Shuri (Letitia Wright), T’Challa’s younger sister, is the true standout. Marvel continues their line of strong female heroines, and the technology-strung Wakandan princess is by far one of the best the MCU’s given us yet. Funny, nerdy, smart, and caring, she proves to be one of the strongest points of the film.
There’s rarely a time when the MCU produces an amazing villain nowadays. Over the course of the franchise, we’ve dealt with the Mandarin, Malekith, Ronan, and Yellowjacket. However, Black Panther‘s Erik Killmonger may quite be the best villain in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. While Loki plunged New York into chaos with his mischief, Killmonger brings a something new to the table. He may be a murderer, but his motives are unnervingly realistic and emotionally charged. Basically, he wants Wakanda to share technology with the rest of the world. He wants the oppressed to become the oppressors. Vibranium is precious, and the potential for development with other countries is huge. However, the reason this means so much is because of how prevalent this message is in society today. Jordan brings a sense of emotion to a villain larger than ever seen before in a superhero film. His message and way of getting what he wants are both shockingly believable…and understandable.
Black Panther‘s action scenes never feel rushed, though the editing could be better at points, most notably during the opening fight. However, each action scene has a purpose. There isn’t a single moment where the action feels meaningless, as it is tonally balanced with the story. That doesn’t mean the scenes aren’t fun, though. They most certainly are. The best example of this is the showdown in South Korea, where T’Challa ruthlessly tears his way through his enemies, working his way up to finally confronting Ulysses Klaue. What also helps these scenes is the pulse-pounding score composed by Ludwig Göransson. Side note: while it isn’t featured much in the movie, the Kendrick Lamar-produced soundtrack is amazing. Definitely, give it a listen if you haven’t already.
Black Panther earns its position as one of the top-tier MCU entries. With sweeping cinematography, a perfectly written and acted villain, tremendous action sequences, and some of the finest character development in a superhero film, it will be cherished for years to come. It’s just surprising how long it took.
Black Panther stars Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Martin Freeman, Daniel Kaluuya, Letitia Wright, Winston Duke, Angela Bassett, Forest Whitaker, Andy Serkis, Sterling K. Brown. Directed by Ryan Coogler.