The road to “Black Panther” has proven itself to be quite a long one. Ever since its first trailer hit back last June, the internet has been ablaze with excitement about Marvel’s standalone film to the tale of King T’Challa of Wakanda. Not only were people excited that the film actually looked good, but about the immense impact that the film would have on the world of blockbusters. In the past, black-led blockbusters haven’t been absent, but have really only accounted for what I can only assume is less than 1% of the gross product of films like this. “Black Panther” is not only a black-led blockbuster, but one led almost entirely by a black cast. Set within the royal palace of the fictional African country of Wakanda, the film seeks to explore the vast beauty and excellence that Africa has to offer, all that typically gets swept under the rug by the media for more “In the arms of the angel” fundraising commercials. “Black Panther” proved itself to be a standard for black excellence in front of the camera, but can the talent behind the camera make it worth its important distinction as a film?
Oh boy, can it.
T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) is preparing to take the throne of Wakanda, after his father was killed in the events of “Captain America: Civil War.” Faced with the pressure of his family and citizens under his belt, T’Challa finds himself in a bit of an identity crisis when taking the throne. Soon into his reign, he is told that Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis), an old nemesis of his father’s, is attempting to pawn an ancient Wakandan artifact recovered in London. Captured in Seoul, Klaue escapes with the help of American extremist Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan), who wears a Wakandan ring of his family. With the help of his guard, Okoye (Danai Gurira), his ex, Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o), sister, Shuri (Letitia Wright) and CIA Agent Everett Ross (Martin Freeman), the group must decipher the origin of Killmonger’s origin and protect Wakanda from an age of tyrannical rule threatening it at its door.
In writing, “Black Panther” sounds like a typical “defend the kingdom” type of action film, but don’t get it twisted, you have never seen a film like “Black Panther” before. The sheer act of placing a major blockbuster in Central Africa is groundbreaking in itself, as it opens itself up to such a unique setting that affects the fabric of the film in such a profound way that it’s hard to describe. The only other films I can think of that did this were Neill Blomkamp’s “District 9” and “Chappie,” based out of Johannesburg, South Africa, but those hardly hold a candle to the lush, beautiful world crafted here. Wakanda is an African utopia of no compare, and the idea that a country known for being third-world harboring not only a secret, but one of such magnitude is a fascinating and endlessly gratifying element that just keeps on giving every time you think “Black Panther” has played all of the cards in its deck.
While we knew that Boseman could play the part of Black Panther well from his time in “Captain America: Civil War,” it really comes to full realization here in a very moving form. T’Challa isn’t a typical hero, nor is he a typical king. While damaged by the death of his father, T’Challa finds comfort in family, and shows his vulnerability at nearly every turn he can. He’s human, flawed, vulnerable and occasionally lost; this isn’t a new trait for superheroes, but there’s a much more human element about T’Challa that comes through in this film. He’s T’Challa far more than he’s Black Panther, and this connection to the man and not the costume really builds up this sort of depth you just don’t get often.
As good as Boseman is, the supporting cast is even better. Jordan as Killmonger is one of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s best villains so far. The MCU has often had an issue with fleshing out their villains, but starting with Vulture in “Spider-Man: Homecoming,” each villain since, also including Hela from “Thor: Ragnarok,” has found a lush amount of depth and weakness to them that hasn’t been found in the MCU until now. There’s a lot of pain in Killmonger’s presence, and the sometimes heartbreaking, more times infuriating ways that he goes about things offer such a level of depth that reflects so wonderfully on the society and differences of activism in the community today. Gurira and Nyong’o are both insanely rich and gratifying characters that complement T’Challa wonderfully. Where two find weakness, the other makes up for in their strength, and so on. This also goes for Wright too, but there’s a certain specialness about Shuri that can’t be overstated. For a 16-year-old African princess to be the most advanced inventor of her time is one thing, but to craft her with such playfulness and personality is another. This isn’t some “female Tony Stark” situation that Marvel could’ve copped out with, but a whole new monster of such a refreshing and beautiful variety.
Ryan Coogler, director behind “Fruitvale Station” and the absolutely wondrous “Creed,” takes the reins of “Black Panther” with such immense love and care that it almost doesn’t seem fair that Marvel didn’t afford him an “a Ryan Coogler film” credit in the main credits. This is an artist who knows exactly what to paint at the exact right time. It’s a beautiful concoction of so many different feelings and tones that often time don’t mix, but somehow flow from one setpiece to another here like molasses. Most of the time, the film felt more like a Bond film than that of an MCU entry, which is yet another reason “Black Panther” stands out in the way it does. Coogler hasn’t created a film like the other Marvel films, nor has he perfected the formula made in the past by other filmmakers, Coogler has crafted something entirely new and fresh for the MCU, much in the same way that Taika Waititi changed up the “Thor” franchise in “Thor: Ragnarok,” but somehow to an even greater degree.
On top of all else, “Black Panther” is fun as hell. However wonderfully crafted the film is, and however socially important it is for so many people, this is simply an entertaining film to watch. It’s 10 tons of fun shoved into a two-hour runtime that just doesn’t quit from its opening frame to its final title card. This is high entertainment of the greatest variety.
And yet, one of the best parts of “Black Panther” comes int hat it really doesn’t feel like much of an MCU film. So many of the other films in the universe feel the need to throw in characters from other properties and reference the rest of the universe to reiterate its connective tissue, but “Black Panther” stands on its own. Of course, the film still does exist in the universe wholly, but this is not the story of how this affected the universe as a whole, but of Wakanda. This is a film that stands on its own completely, and even if you’ve never seen a Marvel property before “Black Panther,” you’ll still be A-Ok.
“Black Panther” is getting released in a bevy of formats to choose from, and Marvel chose to screen the film for us in standard 2D, which was a stunning experience in itself. IMAX is currently running the film in an expanded aspect ratio of 1.90:1, offering 26% more image than any other format. Dolby Cinema offers the clearest and most pristine image in 2D, as well as jarring Dolby Atmos audio. I can’t speak how the 3D in the film will turn out, but if any previous MCU films are any indication, I can only imagine this one will be just as impressive. No matter how you see “Black Panther,” simply seeing the film is the right choice off the bat.
Take away the social importance of representation and all the boxes that “Black Panther” checks in itself, and “Black Panther” is still one of, if not the best entry into the MCU thus far. I want to hate this universe all I can from the sheer saturation of films that come along with it, but when they continue to continue and improve upon themselves in such a wonderfully magical way, it’s hard to do anything but appreciate the innovations that such talented filmmakers get to bring to the screen. “Black Panther” is such a unique and wonderful narrative that you often forget just how wonderfully crafted the actual action sequences are in the film, as well as the absolutely stunning visual effects. Add on top what is perhaps the best cast to grace an MCU film yet, and you have a completely stunning achievement in blockbuster filmmaking. An achievement that will send ripples within the film community for decades to come. “Black Panther” is everything a blockbuster should be, pertinent, important, entertaining, beautiful and any other positive adjective you can levy at it, “Black Panther” has it in spades.
Directed by: Ryan Coogler
Starring: Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Martin Freeman, Daniel Kaluuya, Letitia Wright, Winston Duke, with Angela Bassett, with Forest Whitaker, and Andy Serkis.
Runtime: 134 minutes
Rating: PG-13 for prolonged sequences of action violence, and a brief rude gesture.
Also available in Dolby Cinema, RealD 3D, and IMAX 2D & 3D.
Marvel Studios presents, “Black Panther”