T’Challa, the King of Wakanda, rises to the throne in the isolated, technologically advanced African nation, but his claim is challenged by a vengeful outsider who believes the throne belongs to himself.
Marvel breaks ground once again with their first African superhero as the center of a film set in their cinematic universe. When Chadwick Boseman first played the role in Captain America: Civil War, I knew we should be getting a solo film for him soon, and he nails it once again as the fantastic protagonist of king T’Challa. We feel that he is conflicted about how ready he is for his new position but like those around him, would die for his country of Wakanda. We are immersed in the visually striking setting of Wakanda which is realized very well as not only a gorgeous setting, but as a country that must choose its position in the world. The rest of the cast is also outstanding, with more African Americans cast in big roles than any superhero film before. Michael B. Jordan as Killmonger steps out of medicore Marvel villain territory and delivers a complexly portrayed and excellently motivated antagonist who’s a great counterpart to Boseman. His rage is brought on so well and we actually understand why he wants to fight our heroes, and his reasons aren’t too bad. I’d be damned if this isn’t one of the best villains modern superhero films has to offer. Lupita Nyong’o as T’Challa’s ex-lover is also a well-written character who will stand by his side and help him out at all costs, and Danai Gurira as the ass-kicking Okoye steals some of the fights. We’ve also got the awesome presence of Oscar-nominated Get Out star Daniel Kaluuya as W’Kabi, and I’m seriously convinced this guy should be in every upcoming movie, and there’s the hilarious and memorable tribe leader M’Baku played by Winston Duke, who we definitely need more from soon, and who doesn’t love some charm from Martin Freeman? However, my favorite member of the supporting cast was Letitia Wright as Shuri, T’Challa’s younger sister, as she’s inventive, sweet, funny, and brings lots of light to her scenes. Every member of the cast is well-realized and I couldn’t ask more from the nuanced performances and great chemistry they all have.
Black Panther may be set in the biggest universe in cinematic history, but even though the enormous Infinity War team-up is only two months away, Black Panther remembers to be its own story, free of set-ups, teases, and big characters thrown in from other films (save for an awesome post-credits scene). There are no Infinity Stones or scenes that need to hint at what’s next for the Black Panther saga, instead we get a story that stays within its 2-hour length, allowing us to really explore the themes and character motivations without being reminded too much we’re watching a comic-book film. Vivid costumes, sets, and action make this visually pleasing, but we also dig deep into why everyone does what they’re doing, and what leaders must do to help others, not just when it concerns them. We get a well-directed and written action film thanks to Creed‘s Ryan Coogler but also how Black Panther himself takes steps to make the world a better place. A couple of scenes do dive into familiar territory, but by the end, Black Panther is a new kind of Marvel movie and a spirited hero for us all to love.