After nearly 10 years of film after film, the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) has finally introduced what may be its most impactful, progressive, insightful, and topical film in its entire slate in “Black Panther.” This is a superhero film that completely stands out of every other marvel film in terms of its story, characters and deeply topical presence.
Set after the events of 2016’s “Captain America: Civil War,” after witnessing the death of his father, T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) must inherit the throne of his native country of Wakanda, a technologically advanced fictitous African nation brimming with age-old customs. But T’Challa must soon learn what it means to be a good king when an outsider threatens his people’s way of living.
Despite its integral position in the MCU, one of the biggest strengths of the film is its ability to stand completely outside of the other Marvel films, acting as a complete standalone with no previous films needed to fully embrace and understand it. Regardless, the film’s attempt at bringing to life a vast, colorful, rich world succeeds on all levels, bringing the audience into a civilization filled with technological marvels and ancient traditions. Director Ryan Coogler does an impeccable job at perfectly balancing both aspects of society in a way that is believable and natural. But Coogler also not only brings to life an incredibly dense, rich world, but also opens new doorways into other parts of the MCU, giving it even richer diversity and imaginative world-building.
This true expanse of the beauty of Wakanda is not just mirrored in the city itself, but also in the people who inhabit it. Whether it’s the costume design or the makeup, Coogler succeeds in fleshing out the diverse inhabitants of Wakanda and making it feel like a genuine place of worship, respect and culture.
But the cinematography astoundingly brings to life not just the metropolitan aspect of Wakanda, but also its natural landscapes, featuring an assortment of mountains, valleys, wildlife and grasslands as far as the eye can see. Coogler brings a colorful depiction of Africa that evokes its tremendous beauty and expansive landscape.
One of the many things that makes “Black Panther” stand out from every other film in Marvel’s slate is how unlike most other Marvel films, every single cast member has depth and meaning, each of them getting a chance to shine and have purpose in the overall narrative. We only got a small taste of what Chadwick Boseman can do with the character of T’Challa in “Captain America: Civil War,” and that was enough to satisfy us. In this film, Chadwick Boseman goes all out, perfectly evoking the charismatic, playful, wise king of T’Challa while also expressing the fierce, courageous warrior spirit of the Black Panther.
Oddly enough, every other supporting character gets a chance to share the spotlight, which is something you don’t really get to see that much in previous MCU films. Lupita Nyong’o fulfills the role of T’Challa’s former lover Nakia, giving her spirit and tenacity that allow her to stand as an equal to T’Challa, and Danai Gurira evokes the same kind of depth and intimidation she gives as Michonne on “The Walking Dead” in the role of Okoye, leader of T’Challa’s royal guard, the Dora Milaje. While it wasn’t necessarily one of the better performances of the film, Forest Whitaker does maintain a manageable spirit as elder statesman Zuri, but at the expense of being borderline cartoonish, but not quite cartoonish. After coming off the heels of last year’s hit “Get Out,” Daniel Kaluuya is able to shine as T’Challa’s longtime friend W’Kabi.
But the film definitely had some standouts. Letitia Wright excels with flying colors as T’Challa’s intelligent little sister Shuri, blending humor, sass and independence that make her out to be clearly a child and yet possess a certain gravitas that makes her shine in the film. We also have Winston Duke as T’Challa rival M’Baku, providing much of the well-executed humor and maintaining an intimidating demeanor as well. Andy Serkis gets to portray arms dealer and merchant Ulysses Klaue, and after seeing the film, it’s clear that he had an absolute blast with the role, chewing every bit of scenery he’s in.
We also get Angela Bassett playing T’Challa’s mother Ramonda and Martin Freeman playing CIA operative and ally of T’Challa Everett Ross, and while both excel in their roles, it’s a bit disappointing when they’re not given much to do in the film and are largely left on the sidelines until the plot requires them.
But if there was one cast member who was captivating in his performance and whose character was a major strength of the film was Michael B. Jordan as the villainous Erik Killmonger. In breaking the Marvel streak of depicting poorly-written and underdeveloped villains, both Jordan and Coogler have worked together to give audiences the best Marvel villain since Loki. Killmonger has a troubled past and a clear agenda, and Jordan evokes that rage and suffering perfectly, acting as a sort of antithesis to T’Challa. Every time Killmonger did something horrible, you felt like you understood why he’s doing and sympathize with him. But his character is also important because of what his overall character arc envelopes.
His progression throughout the film highlights the many topical issues that face our planet in regards to social equality and racial prejudice and oppression. Whether referring to the era of colonials or the issues of brutality and isolation, Killmonger’s placement in the narrative makes “Black Panther” one of the more politically relevant and socially critical superhero films to ever be produced.
Overall, “Black Panther” is a huge step forward for not just the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but for superhero films in general. As well as being an incredibly engaging blockbuster with tremendous heart, soul, character, and passion, director Ryan Coogler brings forth an incredibly faithful commemoration of a culture that deserves more respect. Bolstered by a tremendous cast, a brilliantly realized world, a villain with incredible depth, and an emotionally resonant story about family and tradition, “Black Panther” will be recognized as a major turning point for superhero films.