The Mighty King of Wakanda has entered the multiplex! How does Black Panther stack up to the rest of the MCU? Find out right now!
Black Panther (2018)
Starring: Chadwick Boseman, Michael B Jordan, Lupita N’yongo, Danai Gurire
Directed By: Ryan Coogler
Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther has a lot to live up to. As not only the first Marvel Studios movie to feature an African-American lead, but also the director’s first major tent pole movie, there’s a lot to expect from the film. But amazingly, Black Panther lives up to the hype, presenting a movie that’s not only worthy of the character, but also one that could (and should) start a movement similar to the one Wonder Woman started last Summer.
Picking up after the events of Captain America: Civil War, the latest entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe finds T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) returning to his native Wakanda to engage in the ritual to become king after his father’s death. However, heavy is the head that wears the crown, and many want to rule the nation of Wakanda for their own ends, including Erik Killmonger (Michael B Jordan), who believes that he has a rightful claim to the throne.
What follows is a a pretty basic and refreshingly smaller focused film than other Marvel movies, as a good chunk of the run time of Black Panther takes place in Wakanda. What Doctor Strange did for magic and Guardians of the Galaxy did for space, Black Panther does for the technological and spiritual side of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It’s truly a sight to see Wakanda presented in such a creative way, and I really don’t think Marvel could have pulled this off at any other point in their movie history. A nation that is both steeped in culture but also several years ahead of the world technologically, the dichotomy between the huge, futuristic skyscrapers and the beautiful African countryside is amazing. Wakanda is as much a character in Panther as the main character himself. It’s one of the most fully realized fictional locations in comic book films. In fact, I don’t think a fictional location has been recreated for the screen this well since Tim Burton’s Batman.
Of course, as good as a fictional world is, it’s nothing without some characters to fill it in. Luckily Black Panther is stacked to the brim with fantastic actors, with Chadwick Boseman leading the pack as T’Challa. If you were worried about Boseman’s ability to carry a film on his own, you shouldn’t be, as he more than delivers on the promise from his debut in Captain America: Civil War. Boseman gives T’Challa the exact right balance he needs to be effective: noble, charismatic, fair, and also playful. He’s got extremely great chemistry with everyone in the film, but the notable standouts are his scenes with his younger sister Shuri, played by Letitia Wright, who’s sure to become a new favorite for fans of the MCU.
Also standing out is Danai Gurira’s Okoye, who is arguably the biggest bad ass in the whole movie. As the head of the Panther’s royal guard the Dora Milaje, she not only casts a commanding presence, but also kicks some serious ass multiple times in the movie. Of course, Gurira has some ass-kicking experience from playing Michonne on The Walking Dead, but Okoye should push her into an entire other stratosphere, and it’s awesome getting to see her on the big screen whipping her spear around and beating people to a pulp.
But of all the performances in Black Panther, the one that stands out the most is Michael B Jordan’s Erik Killmonger. The MCU’s villain problem has been covered time and time again, but it seems like they’ve finally found some answers to it, and Killmonger stands as one of their best. Jordan is one of Hollywood’s best young actors, and Black Panther is a brilliant showcase for him. In fact, he’s so good that at times you forget he’s the villain of the movie, as his charm works so well that you end up kind of rooting for him, even though you know that he’s technically in the wrong.
As director Ryan Coogler’s third film, the fact that Black Panther is so ably and confidently made is pretty staggering. Coogler made a big splash with his debut Fruitvale Station, and an even bigger one with Creed (which also starred Jordan), so it’s not too surprising to imagine that he’d do a good job with Black Panther. But the fact that this film is such a slam dunk is what makes it so special. Coogler handles every aspect of this film, from the opening exposition, to the emotional beats, to the giant battle sequences, like a seasoned pro, and it just shows you how much promise he has a filmmaker and how fantastic a choice he was for this film. Marvel Studios have shown with Phase Three that they’re not afraid to let directors make their own marks on their films (within reason), and like Thor: Ragnarok before it, it’s lead to a film that’s fresh and unique in their now 18 film deep catalog.
At the surface, Black Panther seems to be just another Marvel Studios origin movie. But when you dig deeper, it’s a movie about race, culture, globalization, and how sons live in the shadows of their fathers. Both T’Challa and Killmonger have differing views of their homeland due to the stories their fathers told and their different life experiences, but at their core, they both want to see Wakanda flourish. It’s that struggle that makes their battles so compelling, and what makes the finale of the film so interesting. The world may not be at stake, but a nation and a family is, and with that comes a film that not only stands as one of the best Marvel Studios films, but also one of the most important comic book movies as well.
Long live the king, indeed.