So far the Marvel Cinematic Universe has had billionaire idealists, super soldiers, wizards, demons, and Gods. Now, they have their King; but is he righteously deserving of his crown?
Black Panther has a lot riding on its shoulders as, unfortunately, one of the few sources of diversity in the bigger blockbuster superhero movies of the last 10 years. Surely there has been a modicum of representation within the larger teams; but, not only is this the first Marvel movie since Blade to feature a man of color, it also takes place in Africa with a majority diverse cast. One would think that would mean that director Ryan Coogler (Creed, Fruitvale Station) would go for a classic superhero narrative and just try to nail a tried-and-true formula, but to his and Marvel’s credit, they go three steps ahead and make something that feels like no other superhero movie before it.
Kevin Feige has insisted that each Marvel film is its own genre in a superhero world. Ant-Man was a heist movie, The Winter Soldier was a political thriller, and Spider-Man was a coming of age tale. In this way Black Panther is a royal family drama at its core, with echoes of Shakespeare and Game of Thrones, but it has much more specific things to say about the modern world around it than that those stories tend to. Most of the action takes place in the fictional African country of Wakanda which is just as comic book-y as anything else in the MCU, and yet its Afrofuturist design makes it feel organic. Black Panther feels more grounded than it would if they went with the cliche minimalist designs that set dressers use to denote that a location is tech-heavy and contemporary.
Black Panther picks up where his introduction in Civil War left off. T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) is about to be crowned king after his father was killed by Baron Zemo. From there we meet his fierce, right-hand woman Okoye (played by Danai Gurira from The Walking Dead), his ex Nakia (Lupita Nyongo), his brainiac little sister Shuri (Letitia Wright) and his mother, the queen, Ramonda (the great Angela Bassett). All of these characters are fully realized and played with charm and gravitas, especially Shuri (a future Black Panther in the comics herself, mind you), who steals most of the movie with her inherent coolness. And although the movie does revolve around T’Challa, as it should, Okoye, Nakia, and Shuri definitely feel more like the Black Panther’s team than anything. At one point the four of them get to go on a spy mission in a sequence that feels like one of the best Bond movies you haven’t seen; each of them get a moment or two to shine — a notion that remains consistent throughout the entire film.
Of course, you wouldn’t be talking about a Ryan Coogler movie if you didn’t mention the DiCaprio to his Scorsese: Michael B Jordan plays one of the film’s “antagonists”. Marvel may have a villain problem, but in this movie — it isn’t one. In one of the film’s few flaws, MBJ’s Killmonger doesn’t get enough screen time for more nuanced development, so he has to light it up every time he’s on; in short, his presence is a straight-up fire emoji. Jordan’s character also brings a lot of the perspective to the film. His motivations are fueled by social and historical injustice. Through Killmonger, Ryan Coogler and co-writer Joe Robert Cole, question the existence of Wakanda in the modern world and why the hidden nation has stayed so isolated despite the actual problems facing black people everywhere.
The movie also gets political in other interesting ways that you wouldn’t necessarily expect, with a plot device that seems to mirror current day elections all over the world. There’s a sense of political intrigue in a few of the diplomatic fronts that T’Challa must fight. But when it comes to the front we all paid to see, you know — the action one — Coogler brings a lot of his Creed essence into the film. This is especially realized in a stunning one-shot fight sequence in an underground casino alongside some tribal UFCesque sportsmanlike combat rituals and warrior meditations. The one-shot sequence definitely steals the show with its flash, and the epic climax packs a bigger punch than most.
After the dust settles the sparkling story behind the skrimish, it becomes apparent that you didn’t just watch the next Marvel movie–the first MCU movie spotlighting a black star–but you watched an epic journey of a king whose claim to the throne is undeniable. 4.75/5 Tim Hardaways.
Marvel Studios’ Black Panther will be in theaters everywhere February 16th.