Black Panther is one of the most impressive features that Marvel Studio has ever produced, not just for because of what it does right, but because of what it does different. The world of Wakanda is a world that feels lived in, and while Chadwick Boseman is remarkable as the titular superhero, this truly feels like an ensemble piece, with an amazing group of actors that feel like they’re part of a real community. Black Panther is an exhilarating piece of entertainment, but it’s also about something deeper, and all credit is due to director Ryan Coogler, who is becoming one of the best young talents in the industry.
After the death of Wakandan King T’Chalka in Captain America: Civil War, his son T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) ascends to the throne to become King of the enigmatic and secluded nation. When the villainous vibranium thief Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis) reemerges, T’Challa and his allies discover the existence of Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan), a mysterious character who aspires to take the throne for himself.
Marvel has been notorious for its remarkable ability to create compelling, interesting heroes, yet somewhat underwhelming villains, but Black Panther proves to be the standout. Michael B. Jordan’s Killmoger is a villain full of righteous anger; he’s a Wakandan raised in America, and has seen the prejudice and hatred throughout the world that’s not present in the secluded location of Wakanda. He’s got radical ideas, but they come from a place of tragedy and injustice, and B. Jordan sells his reasons for becoming the film’s antagonist. Killmonger is the type of villain that you can’t help agree with about a great many things, and I honestly believe that B. Jordan’s work should warrant serious consideration for Best Supporting Actor.
Of course, Boseman is great as T’Challa, and gives a truly layered performance as a man struggling as both a superhero and a king, and struggles to balance his commitment to law and justice. The ensemble is populated by wonderful supporting actors, including Angela Bassett, Daniel Kaluuya, Lupita Nyong’o, Letita Wright, Danai Gurira, and Martin Freeman; this is a world that feels populated by character who have relationships beyond what we see onscreen, and the strength of the entire cast only strengthens the emotional resolve for T’Challa and his journey.
The film is also just beautifully shot, with Wakanda feeling like a real place with unique customs and environments. There’s a variety of great environments, including a great night club scene that feels plucked right out of a James Bond movie, and the visual design is unlike anything ever seen in a Marvel movie.
What makes the film standout among recent comic book films in my eyes is its emotional undercurrents; revelations made about past events have a profound impact upon both T’Challa and Killmonger, and while they have an emotional affect upon the story unfolding onscreen, they represent something that is relevant to our world and a great many people. Ironically, the film’s only problems are ones that involve its action scenes; there’s some action scenes that are hard to follow at points, and some of the CGI near the end is slightly problematic.
Black Panther is a great Marvel movie, establishing a world unlike we’ve seen before full of complex characters, fascinating political intrigue, and genuinely impactful subtext. Ryan Coogler has established himself as a filmmaker willing to push boundaries, and Black Panther is a film that both fits within the larger context of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, while also standing as its own self-contained story. Grade: A-