Cleveland, Ohio — It’s one of the highest rated superhero films of all time, already shattering box office records and even racial barriers in the process. But does it deserve the massive amount of hype it’s been getting?
In short, yes.
Marvel’s latest solo superhero film, “Black Panther,” is a film I’ve personally waited for with baited breath for over a decade. As a fan of the character and the comics since I was a child, the one thing that I — and other fans alike — was concerned with was how the fictional nation of Wakanda, the concepts and imaginative weapons created in the comics and the primarily black cast would be portrayed in a major motion picture. I think I can speak for most fans when I affirm that any doubts I may have had have been squashed upon seeing the film.
Picking up where audiences were introduced to Black Panther, T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) — after mourning the death of his father T’Chaka (John Kani)— has returned to the secluded and technologically advanced country of Wakanda to officially claim the title of king and be ceremoniously crowned the Black Panther. However, quickly after this joyous occasion, old foes of the kingdom re-emerge as Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis) — sporting a new weaponized hand after his altercation with Ultron — along with Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan), an American special ops veteran with a surprising past, are stealing the Wakandan precious metal vibranium and attempting to sell it to anyone who wishes to wage war on the world.
Faced with a dilemma to either protect the sanctity of his country or face the threat of global chaos, T’Challa teams with his sister Shuri (Letitia Wright), his ex-girlfriend Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o), Intelligence officer Everett Ross (Martin Freeman) and Okoye (Danai Gurira) — the general of T’Challa’s personal bodyguards the Dora Milaje — to stop any adversarial forces who threaten to destroy his country, his people and, oftentimes, his life.
A major note of praise for co-writer and director Ryan Coogler — of “Creed” and “Fruitvale Station” fame — is that he has done an excellent job of exploring the scope of Wakanda and its cast of characters. There are so many characters from the source material that they managed to squeeze in, and all of them feel useful and important to the overall plot.
Instead of diverging off into sub-plots and side quests, the film makes an effort to really establish the universe through Black Panther as a character, and through Erik Killmonger as the central antagonist as well as an outsider with his own vision of what Wakanda should be.
World-building may take up a big portion of the first act, but once the audience is brought up to snuff about the universe, the film holds on punches in immersing the viewer into all kinds of creative and sometimes even zany adventures, battles, weapons and gadgets.
The new version of the Black Panther suit, designed by Shuri early on in the film, is gorgeous and incredibly detailed, as is the landscape for Wakanda and the production design. The entire film is colorful, engaging, and feels like a different kind of superhero film in terms of its locations, mythos and style.
The performances are great all around, especially by Boseman and Jordan, who work well off each other. Their characters’ conflict centers around their ideologies, and their dialogue is ripe with social commentary without being preachy.
Other notable performances include Gurira, who manages to be funny and kick-ass as Okoye, and Winston Duke as M’Baku, a prideful chief of a rival tribe within Wakanda who has complicated dilemmas of his own.
The script legitimately feels like the source material, as a lot of the traditional formulas for superhero films — except for the ‘hero faces off against evil interpretation of himself’ trope because Marvel has a lot of those kinds of conflicts with its characters — are cast aside to really go more in-depth into the character of T’Challa, as a king, a superhero and as a successor who feels not quite ready for all of the responsibilities of being the Black Panther.
On the flip side, Killmonger’s character — without spoiling the film — has clear motivations and an intriguing backstory that ties into the central conflict of our hero’s decision and the ramifications of his world. And while T’Challa and Killmonger’s final battle is not as climactic as their prior interactions justify, their resolution is a good payoff and almost touching.
Is it the best Marvel Cinematic Universe film so far? It’s at least on par with the first “Iron Man” in terms of its story, its characters and the amount of detail the film delves into to make you understand the world, like the characters and look forward to what comes next. “Black Panther” is certainly worth checking out, regardless of if you’re a comic book fan of not.
Black Panther is set to make his next appearance in “Avengers: Infinity War Part I” and Marvel is reportedly scheduling a sequel, and I can’t wait to see what lies ahead for Black Panther and Wakanda in the MCU.
Photo courtesy Marvel/Disney