T’Challa steps into the spotlight following his debut as Black Panther in Captain America: Civil War, in his first solo outing directed by acclaimed director Ryan Coogler. Black Panther touts one of the most diverse casts in a high-profile Hollywood film, and while most Marvel films are a big deal, Black Panther has evolved into a cultural event. Black Panther successfully integrates the nation of Wakanda into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and delivers a movie that’s entertaining, thought-provoking, and inspiring.
Black Panther picks up immediately following the events of Captain America: Civil War as the Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) assumes the role as King of Wakanda following the death of his father T’Chaka. Surrounded by his closest allies, T’Challa must figure out what it means to be a King as he navigates the traditions and secrecy of Wakanda.
Black Panther stands apart from other entries in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and superhero movies in general, because it has something to say. When the action picks up, Black Panther is both exciting and fun. But the moments that truly make Black Panther shine are its scenes dedicated to world-building and character development. Wakanda feels like a real place, with a rich history, and the characters that inhabit that world feel just as rich. The vision for Wakanda is incredibly unique, and the Afrofuturism aesthetic is something that has never been explored to the extent seen in Black Panther. The fusion of Science Fiction and African culture is fresh and distinct, and it helps Black Panther stand apart from movies in its genre. In many ways, it feels like a celebration of African culture, and the tone of the film is elevated by the gorgeous visuals and straight-up phenomenal soundtrack.
As stated earlier, Black Panther stands apart because it delivers a message, and it accomplishes that in a poignant and meaningful way. This is most prominently illustrated through the conflict of T’Challa and Eric Killmonger, (Michael B. Jordan) an American outsider who wants to take the throne of Wakanda and use Wakanda’s technology to conquer the world and fight injustice. Jordan’s performance as Killmonger is heart-wrenching, and the film helps you to sympathize with the character and understand his worldview. The juxtaposition of T’Challa’s peaceful and distant worldview against Killmonger’s violent and angry hands-on approach is certain to spur discussion, and at the end of the day, Black Panther delivers a message through each of the characters without feeling preachy.
Speaking of strong performances, Black Panther has one of my favorite supporting casts in recent memory. O’Koye (Danai Gurira), Shuri (Letitia Wright), Everett Ross (Martin Freeman), and Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o) each bring their own characters to life, and each character feels like a strong addition to T’Challa’s team more than a sidekick. Black Panther delivers strong female characters that stand equal and above to the male leads, and characters like OKoye and Shuri are bound to be fan favorites.
When it comes to my gripes with Black Panther, it takes a minute to get the plot rolling forward. The pace of the beginning is slow, but it’s a worthwhile trade for the world-building we get for the world of Wakanda. Also, the final showdown between Black Panther and Killmonger is fantastic from their character’s standpoints, but the fight itself left something to be desired. It didn’t carry the same intensity as the earlier one-on-one bout in the film, mostly due to the reliance of some heavy CGI.
Black Panther is an incredibly lofty film, but it was able to get me invested in Wakanda’s struggles, and elevate Black Panther to one of my favorite heroes in the Marvel pantheon. The character moments with T’Challa and his relationship with Killmonger make him a hero to be respected, and truly worthy of the superhero label. While accomplishing this, it delivered a strong message about peace, unity, and progress. Black Panther is incredibly unique, and while it feels like a part of Marvel’s epic saga, it manages to make itself feel completely different and its celebration of African culture and embrace of Afrofuturism concepts make Black Panther a fresh and distinct experience.