Editor’s note: This is a spoiler-free Black Panther review.
In this day and age, Marvel movies have gained a fanatical, cult following. It would be very difficult for a Marvel movie to flop at this point, simply because of the sheer number of people willing to see the films due to the brand and characters behind them. That’s not to say that any of the staple superhero movies that have been released so far are bad. Just that they should be held to different standards than your typical movie releases.
As more and more comic books are adapted into film, both fans and critics alike have begun to notice certain patterns emerge. Movies in general are formulaic—as are books, music, and most media we consume. Unless Marvel takes time to reinvent the genre, more and more of their audience will succumb to superhero fatigue (even if people continually line up to see new Marvel releases.)
That being said I went into the theater with an open mind.
The trailers were stunning, the cast was packed with talented stars, and a hefty social movement was building around the film before it was even released. All signs pointed toward this being a spectacular addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Knowing I had to write a Black Panther review as soon as I got home, I watched the theater darken around me and I sent up a silent prayer, “I really hope Marvel didn’t fuck this up.”
I’m happy to say that Black Panther not only lived up to my expectations, but it completed shattered them.
Despite still reeling from his father’s death, T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) gracefully ascends to the throne of Wakanda and tries to lead his country as best he can in such troubling times. Conflict eventually rises in the form of his long-time enemy and vibranium thief Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis). As T’Challa hunts down Klaue, they are interrupted by Erik “Killmonger” Stevens (Michael B. Jordan) and the Wakandan line of succession is thrown into chaos.
While the plot may sound like a typical action film on paper, when brought to life on the silver screen Black Panther becomes a standout amongst its MCU peers.
Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o), Okoye (Danai Gurira), and Shuri (Letitia Wright) are fantastic additions to the cast and each of their respective characters hold their own against T’Challa’s title role in the film. Having so many strong and well-written women on the cast, while impressive in its own right, is even more noteworthy considering that female representation has been a struggle for Marvel movies thus far. The fantastic cast doesn’t stop there, however.
Killmonger comes across as well-written, multidimensional, and even sympathetic at times—something that Marvel villains have struggled to achieve since the first Iron Man movie. When you add the fact that Angela Bassett, Forest Whitaker, and Daniel Kaluuya were all in supporting roles, it becomes readily apparent that there wasn’t a single subpar performance throughout the entire film.
Acting aside, the movie didn’t disappoint in any other areas of film either.
The visuals looked stunning in the trailers, yes. But it was hard to know how that would translate to a feature-length film. Considering how advanced Wakanda is, it would have been easy to overrun the film with CGI bloat or to make the technology seem gimmicky and out of place. Instead, the futuristic advancements of the Wakandan nation flow seamlessly from scene to scene. Not once did the special effects break my suspension of disbelief—and yet Shuri’s gadgets were obviously decades ahead of the rest of the world.
The filmmakers also managed to create an immersive window into Wakandan culture. The use of color was particularly spectacular, as the costumes, architecture, and landscape of Wakanda spectacularly came to life in the beginning of Black Panther. The language and mythology used throughout the film only further enhanced this effect. By the time the credits roll, I was half convinced that Wakanda is a real place that has somehow managed to hide itself from the rest of us all this time.
Black Panther manages to tick all of the boxes needed for a truly remarkable Marvel film. It has action and adventure, a skillfully crafted narrative, it traverses morally grey territory—it even explores important social issues—all whilst remaining a face-paced and exciting superhero movie. Director Ryan Coogler has essentially upheaved the entire genre, setting the bar for Marvel films incredibly high for years to come.
This movie was everything the MCU needed right now, and I hope it inspires Marvel to take more risks in future films. With upcoming releases such as Ant-Man and The Wasp and Avengers: Infinity War, filmmakers need to realize that recreating the same stories over and over again will only expedite the rate in which we succumb to superhero fatigue. Keeping stories fresh, creating films with diverse casts and that explore diverse topics, and having a willingness to go beyond typical comic book tropes will help Marvel movies stay at the forefront of everyone’s mind for years to come.