The highly anticipated Black Panther has so much to unpack. The latest Marvel Cinematic Universe entry, directed and co-written by Ryan Coogler, opens up a whole new world for audiences and takes us on an adventure and journey that is both very personal and has many real-life implications, as well as social and political commentary. As the first film in what will hopefully be its own trilogy, Black Panther is packed with fantastic characters, great action, and a strong antagonist and truly sets itself apart from the rest of the Marvel pack.
Ascending the throne after his father, King T’Chaka (John Kani), is killed, T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) has a lot to live up to. The nation of Wakanda has hidden itself away in order to protect its resources–namely, vibranium, the strongest metal on Earth and one which powers the entire African nation and allows them to have advanced technology among many other things. But Wakanda is threatened when Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis) comes back into the picture after having been the only one to have stolen vibranium thirty years prior. Things get even more complicated when Erik, AKA Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) challenges everything T’Challa knew about his father and the choices Wakanda has made to stay off the world’s radar.
Black Panther breaks all kinds of boundaries. It has the largest female cast of any Marvel movie, and even more importantly, it’s black women at the forefront of the film, leading the charge in so many ways. Simply put, without them, the story wouldn’t be what it is. This film is revolutionary for Marvel after so many years spent sidelining women and heavily lacking in overall inclusion. Warriors, love interests, sisters, mothers, the women of Black Panther are all of these things and so, so much more. To be very honest, they’re some of the highlights of the film and are integral to the way the story unfolds and the overall choices that are made on several fronts.
Chadwick Boseman is wonderful as King T’Challa. Boseman’s portrayal carries with him the weight of a new king trying to fill the shoes of his father and also forge his own path. He grapples with what it means to be a good king and the responsibility for looking after his people in a new and untested way than past kings. On a more personal level, T’Challa is fun-loving when it comes to his interactions with his sister, Shuri (Letitia Wright) and deeply affected by his love and respect for Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o). It’s fantastic that we are allowed to see so many of his characteristics and the different ways he interacts as both ruler of Wakanda and simply as T’Challa.
Lupita Nyong’o as Nakia is as intelligent as she is influential and kind. There is power to her words and with her leverage and empathetic heart, she rallies many to do what is right in the wake of so much conflict. Unsurprisingly, Nakia is also still flirty with T’Challa who only has eyes for her. She has his respect and what’s wonderful to see is that when she suggests change, he isn’t condescending or dismissive. They make quite the pair and Nyong’o also instills her character with a deep sense of loyalty and quick thinking and takes ownership of every scene she’s in.
The rest of the supporting cast is amazing. From Forest Whitaker to Angela Bassett, Coogler has put together a powerhouse of talent. But I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Letitia Wright as Shuri. She has a sense of humor and enjoys teasing her brother while also working with her knowledge and expertise to help in an instant. She truly steals the show throughout the film. Also, Danai Gurira as Okoye is a warrior through and through, but Gurira’s portrayal adds more to her than just her physical fighting abilities and she’s a joy to watch in her moments of vulnerability as she battles an internal war to find what she truly stands for.
Besides that, Erik/Killmonger is probably the best villain the MCU has ever had. It’s even reductive to call him a straight up villain if only because his reasons present themselves in a multilayered way and they’re understandable despite the warped execution of his plans. He poses many questions to the Wakandans that don’t have easy answers and his presence brings to light questions of identity and also social and political implications. Why, if Wakanda has so much technology are they willing to hide it away and pretend they are less powerful than they are when their resources can help so many? It’s the same question Nakia poses to T’Challa, albeit her intentions are not at all as violent as Killmonger’s. These questions are those that have been asked by many for years without a direct answer because nothing is black and white and nuance exists in Black Panther. Killmonger’s issues are both personal and global and Michael B. Jordan is able to strike a chord regarding the different aspects of these issues. There’s one scene that is moving enough it’s easy to forget that he is also the antagonist.
Within the span of the film, which has a run time of two hours and fourteen minutes, Coogler introduces us to the world of Wakanda, its people, its history and rituals. Beyond the borders and at the heart of what’s assumed to be the capital city lies a place filled with tradition and natural beauty. The advanced tech the country possesses is present in the layout of the city, but the architecture is also part classic and old world mixed with a modern day look, with skyscrapers sometimes paired with a hut design for a balcony. The cinematography is vibrant and breathtaking and the action choreographed to look destructive, but smooth, while the hand to hand combat is fluidly rhythmic.
Black Panther balances humor with real world implications that other Marvel movies don’t touch. It’s very personal, not only in story, but also in setting. The characters rarely interact with many outside Wakanda and at the same time the stakes and consequences are global. There’s a lot of world building that feels natural and Wakandan life is a mixture of new technology and old traditions that come into question when challenged. Identity is central to the film and there are many instances where it’s questioned and ties back into the choices we ourselves make despite background. Coogler’s film is a visual masterpiece and also very impactful. Boasted by a phenomenal cast, it’s easily the best Marvel film to date.
Coogler’s film is a visual masterpiece and also very impactful. Boasted by a phenomenal cast, it’s easily the best Marvel film to date.