BLACK PANTHER is the 18th film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and is also one of the best films in the series. It is a deeply political film, focusing on racial and social injustice, globalism, and feminism in a way that resonates deeply. It is an emotionally powerful film, both deeply intimate and also incredibly fun. Featuring a flawless, almost entirely black cast of all-stars, BLACK PANTHER is unabashedly and beautifully Afrocentric.
BLACK PANTHER opens with the fallout of the death of the king of Wakanda (depicted in CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR, and shown again in BLACK PANTHER in a series of flashbacks). The king’s son, T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman), is named as the successor to rule Wakanda and serve as the Black Panther. But T’Challa immediately finds himself thrust into struggles much bigger than he ever imagined. As he weighs the future of Wakanda, he comes head-to-head with Erik “Killmonger” Stevens – a mysterious man that comes to Wakanda to challenge T’Challa’s claim to the throne.
At the forefront of the film is the very idea of Wakanda – how could the most technologically advanced nation in the world exist in hiding, even as other African nations and black people around the world suffer from injustice? The film tackles this question head-on – and it doesn’t shy away from the hard answers. In BLACK PANTHER, the history of Wakanda is one of isolationism. By hiding its true existence, the country has been able to develop into a virtual utopia. But with global suffering and injustice, there is an argument to be made that Wakanda’s blind eye to the world’s problems is akin to being complicit to those problems. Whereas T’Challa seems poised to embrace the continued practice of isolationism, it is the villainous Killmonger who lambasts the hypocrisy of Wakanda and demands change. Wakanda is Afrofuturism realized – a black, futuristic society that is both tribal and also incredibly advanced.
T’Challa and Killmonger are perfect foils for each other. Chadwick Boseman’s portrayal of T’Challa is wonderful – he plays his character with a calm, statesman-like attitude. He’s unflappable, but can still crack a joke with ease. His emotional arc throughout the film is unforgettable, and the weight that his character feels as ruler of Wakanda is tangible. Michael B. Jordan, on the other hand, plays Killmonger with visceral emotion. He’s a man that has seen, first hand, the hypocrisy of Wakanda and has suffered at its lack of global outreach. Killmonger is a ticking time bomb, his rage always bubbling just under the surface. But he’s also one of the most sympathetic villains in a Marvel film. There were many times during the film where I couldn’t help but agree with his viewpoints. That’s the sign of an outstanding villain. The conflict between T’Challa and Killmonger, both the ideological battle and also the physical battle, is extremely well done. It creates a more layered, nuanced film that bolsters BLACK PANTHER to dizzying heights.
Truly, the strength of BLACK PANTHER lies in its women. T’Challa is surrounded almost exclusively by women in this film, and they all serve important roles. My favorite character in the film, and the absolute standout in a film of amazing performances, is Shuri (Letitia Wright). Shuri is T’Challa’s little sister, and she’s a complete technological genius. In essence, she serves a role similar to Q in James Bond films – she’s the gadget expert. But more than just being the smartest person in the room, she’s also incredibly funny. Some of the film’s biggest laughs come from her dialogue – at once both innocent and devious. Her interactions with T’Challa and her mother, Ramonda (Angela Bassett), are some of the best moments in the film.
T’Challa is also guarded by the Dora Milaje, an all-women group of warriors – and they are incredibly fierce and formidable. Led by Okoye (Danai Gurira), these warriors are seasoned fighters that could even put Black Panther to shame. Okoye is one of the film’s standout characters – as funny as she is ferocious. She’s also a great foil for Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o), who is T’Challa’s love interest. Unlike Okoye, Nakia is not a warrior – instead, she is a spy. Nakia’s world view clashes with T’Challa’s – believing that Wakanda could be doing more to help the outside world. Her fighting style and beliefs put her at odds with Okoye, and the two women essentially represent the warring ideas that echo through T’Challa’s mind.
The film does tie into the greater Marvel universe, thanks to the appearance of Everett Ross (Martin Freeman) and the villainous Klaue (Andy Serkis). Ross previously appeared in CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR, and though his role is fairly minor, it’s nice to see some continuity carry over from the films. Klaue, however, was previously introduced in AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON. Andy Serkis delivers an incredible performance as the manic madman. Neither character requires having seen the previous films to understand their motivations, but their inclusion is a nice nod to fans of the series.
The action in BLACK PANTHER is super slick. At times, it invokes a James Bond-esque feeling. It is still absolutely a superhero film, with plenty of costumed action and big set pieces, but it has an overall more intimate feel than a typical superhero film. A big part of what sets the action apart is the film’s awesome soundtrack. The music has a deeply African feel to it, which not only sets it apart but also shows how deep the film embraces African culture.
BLACK PANTHER is Marvel at its finest. It’s a masterful film that doesn’t just elevate the superhero genre – it totally upends it. It is a wonderful celebration of African culture and heritage. It’s a beautiful, eye-opening film that is both an emotional powerhouse and a slick action ride. Simply put, BLACK PANTHER is a game changer.