It’s almost hard to believe that now with eighteen films making up the Marvel Cinematic Universe the studio has yet to land a dud, even the less than great entries are still better than any other current superhero movies out there, and now with Black Panther they seem truly unstoppable. Like Ant-Man and Doctor Strange the Black Panther film is more of a standalone entry with a couple characters from previous films making appearances and the occasional nod to the wider universe that makes up the franchise, but even though it does work fine if you haven’t seen all seventeen of the previous Marvel movies you are rewarded for being a fan as some of those “nods” are quite nice.
Taking place shortly after the events in Captain America: Civil War we find Prince T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) taking the throne after his father’s death in the previous film, though not without out some resistance which later becomes the major crux of the story, so it’s lucky for him he that has a strong cast of characters at his back to ensure that good will triumph in the end…though a lot of shit will go down before the dust settles.
Black Panther is easily one of the best looking films in the MCU, having academy award nominated cinematographer Rachel Morrison certainly helped on that front, but what really makes this film stand out on its own is how much thought and effort went into the fictional African nation of Wakanda. We only got a glimpse of Wakanda at the end of Civil War but now we see it in all its glory as well as getting a history lesson for this Afro-Futuristic world. We learn that centuries ago a meteorite consisting of vibranium impacted in Central Africa and after five tribes fought over this most precious and powerful of minerals the nation of Wakanda was formed. It was through the use of vibranium that allowed this small country to become a technological marvel, and birthed the Black Panther’s extraordinary abilities, and it also permitted the tiny nation to remain hidden while the rest of Africa fell to colonization.
The decision to remain isolated from the rest of the world is at the heart of this film as some people close to T’Challa believe that the time has come to share their technological achievements with the rest of the world, while others think that maybe the world would be a better place with Wakanda actually running things, and looking at the world as it is now one can see the argument for the latter. Of course world domination isn’t something the noble Black Panther could condone.
There are more than a few people making things difficult for T’Challa in this movie such as Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis), a South African arms dealer with a nasty history with the people of Wakanda, then there is Eric Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) a mercenary with a very personal grudge against T’Challa or more accurately his late father, and even T’Challa’s closest friend W’Kabi (Daniel Kaluuya) doesn’t quite see eye-to-eye with the new king on how to deal with outside threats. “Heavy is the head that wears the crown” would be an apt way to describe the situation T’Challa finds himself in, and certainly made even more complicated when his paths cross once again with CIA agent Everett Ross (Martin Freeman) who could endanger the secrecy that keeps Wakanda safe.
Now the film may be called Black Panther, and Chadwick Boseman is the titular star, but it’s the women in this film that really make the whole thing sing. We have T’Challa’s mother Ramonda (Angela Bassett), we never got to see Bassett as Storm but at least she did eventually make it into the Marvel Universe, next is Shuri (Letitia Wright) who is T’Challa’s sister and head of Wakanda’s science and technology department, she’s basically “Q” to T’Challa’s Bond and the stuff she comes up with makes Tony Stark’s gadgets look like tinker toys, and then there is Okoye (Danai Gurira) who is the bald, beautiful and badasss general who leads the Wakandan army. Finally there is Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o) T’Challa’s ex-girlfriend who is one of those people who thinks Wakanda’s isolationism may have reached it “Best Before” date.
That the action set-pieces and special effects that populate this film are spectacular should be of no surprise to anyone but that we also get is a major superhero franchise tent pole that tackles some very relevant issues facing the world today, ones that I’m sure the current President is less than happy about, and this is as unexpected as it is awesome. Who wants to bet that Trump will actually believe Wakanda is a real country? This film not only tackles racial divisions in a thoughtful way but it also provides the MCU with about the best villain they have had yet, as Killmongers is a character that even if you don’t agree with his methods you certainly understand where he is coming from. He isn’t a Norse god angry at being overshadowed by his big brother or some alien menace that simply wants to conquer or destroy the Earth, as he is justifiably angry with the systemic racism that exists today, not to mention some even more personal motivations for revenge. Michael B. Jordon knocks this role out of the park with a performance that will make you forget he was ever in that disastrous Fantastic Four movie.
With Black Panther we see director Ryan Coogler becoming another in the ever increasing list of interesting and talented directors who Marvel/Disney has given the keys to one of their big budgeted action movies in the hopes of preventing a generic cookie cutter franchise, and so far this thought process is keeping them well ahead of the competition. You may not have heard of Black Panther before his appearance in Captain America: Civil War but after this film you surely won’t forget him.
Note: There is more civil war in Black Panther than we ever got in Captain America: Civil War which was basically more of a family dispute than a civil war.