Eighteen movies into the Marvel Cinematic Universe and you know you’re in for an engaging, entertaining ride. By now, you know what’s in store for you as you sit inside the cinema: a struggling hero, a villain hell-bent on bringing the world to its knees, side characters that offer support and witty banters, and, of course, high-octane action sequences and breathtaking CGI effects.
Black Panther is all this — and more. What makes it so different, so refreshing from the other films in the franchise lies in Ryan Coogler. In his hands, Black Panther isn’t just a superhero movie. It’s a film about a reluctant hero who tries to do his best in the wake of his father’s death. It’s a grounded and thoughtful story imbued with political parallels and historical baggage of racial injustice and inequality. It’s Marvel Studios at its most grown-up.
Following his introduction in Captain America: Civil War, the film sees Chadwick Boseman’s Prince T’Challa as he returns home to Wakanda and takes his father’s place as the king. Wakanda is a mystery to the outside world, but to its people, it’s home to Vibranium — the hardest metal on the planet, and the stuff with which Captain America’s shield is made of. In order to protect it, Wakanda has dressed up as a third world country throughout history, hiding its technological advancements from the rest of the world.
However, you can’t hide something for so long without anyone wanting to peel back its layers so they can take a peek. Andy Serkis’s Ulysses Klaue, a notorious arms dealer, knows the country’s secret and employs the help of Michael B. Jordan’s Erik “Killmonger” Stevens, a former US military operative with a secret of his own, to steal more vibranium and Wakanda’s secret tech. To prevent attacks and the risk of exposure, T’Challa enlists the help of his fellow Wakandans — the Dora Milaje, an all-female special force led by Danai Gurira’s General Okoye; Lupita Nyong’o’s Nakia, a spy and T’Challa’s on-and-off girlfriend; Letitia Wright’s Princess Shuri, T’Challa’s younger sister with a penchant for memes, gadgets, and science; and Martin Freeman’s Everett Ross, a CIA agent.
Black Panther delivers in every aspect. The attention to detail is insane — the Wakandan outfits, influenced by African culture, are amazing enough to be a surefire strong contender for 2019 Academy Award for Best Costume Design. The score’s mix of R&B, hip-hop, and traditional African music, curated by none other than Kendrick Lamar, complements the film and gives it a whole new dimension.
The cast is stellar and bursting with acting chops that engages the audience from start to finish. Danai Gurira as Okoye is fierce as she is commanding, but when faced with choosing between helping T’Challa and staying loyal to Killmonger, the usually stoic and no-nonsense General isn’t afraid to show emotions — thus greatly humanizing her. Lupita Nyong’o impresses with great fighting skills, while Angela Bassett, who plays T’Challa’s mother, add gravitas and grace on the screen. Letitia Wright is a breakout star who steals every scene she’s in as Shuri. No one is likely to forget her asking T’Challa, “What are thooose?” as she points to his feet.
Black Panther’s two leads — Boseman and Jordan — more than elevates the film. Boseman’s quiet magnetism as T’Challa is captivating, while Jordan’s electric performance as Killmonger gives him a well-deserved spot as MCU’s best villains alongside Tom Hiddleston’s Loki and Michael Keaton’s Vulture.
But above all the excellent performances, nothing will tie the film together if not for the country of Wakanda itself. Beautifully rendered by Coogler and his production designer Hannah Beachler, and lensed by his cinematographer Rachel Morrison, Wakanda is a character all on its own, vibrant with African aesthetics and high-tech machinery. It’s ancient and futuristic all at once, brimming with traditions and culture that makes it a fully-realized world worth visiting over and over again.
Black Panther is unlike any other film from the MCU. Not only is it bursting with energy, it is also filled with heart and a message that speaks to everyone of racial disparity, identity, and African diaspora. Black Panther tackles ethnic issues, crushes racial stereotypes, provides representation, and celebrates women — something that has never been done by a superhero film as beautifully, as gracefully, and as visually-stunning before. It truly takes movie escapism to the next level.