Black Panther is the newest entry into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and their first to be led by a black superhero. Continuing the story of the Wakandan prince T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) after the death of his father in Civil War, Black Panther sees him return home to take on the mantle as the king.
The director Marvel got to make Black Panther is Fruitvale Station and Creed director Ryan Coogler, who is an absolutely wonderful choice. He has shown in both these films that he has a wonderful ability to tell moving character driven stories, and in Creed he showed what wonderful action chops he had through his filming of the boxing fight scenes. And he delivers another top draw effort with Black Panther. This feels like a unique distinct film, but still very much a part of the MCU, and Coogler manages to imbue it with a hugely culturally significant story, driven by some of the best characters in the MCU to date.
The central theme of the film, and the struggle for T’Challa as the new king is whether to keep his country as an insular, secretive, nation or to share Wakanda’s knowledge and resources to help the rest of the world. It’s a struggle between following the traditions of his country, as laid down by all his forefathers, or to become part of a more inclusive world to be for the better. T’Challa is surrounded by characters with very differing views on it, from Nakia and Shuri (Lupita Nyong’o and Letitia Wright respectively) whereas Okoye (Danai Gurira) is someone more inclined to follow the traditions and her duties.
This story is made even stronger, and in fact driven, by one of the best MCU villains to date, Erik Killmonger, sensationally brought to life by Michael B. Jordan. Killmonger is a scary, tragic, and often relatable villain. He is driven by seeing the suffering of minorities in deprived areas, and frustrated and angered by Wakanda’s refusal to help them. Jordan brings this to life, stealing the spotlight every time that he’s on screen. The only real disappointment with Killmonger is the final confrontation between him and T’Challa is dull, both visually and as a fight sequence. That’s a really shame because the final fight in Creed is one of the greatest hand to hand cinematic fights in recent years, and when you compare the two, you are left just thinking of what could have been.
But the other action sequences are mostly excellent, in particular the challenger sequences. These are brutal, excellently choreographed, and exhilarating to watch, making them some of the best action sequences in the MCU. The other action sequences outside that final fight are all fairly good, with only a couple of bits of dodgy looking CGI being any real drawbacks. They all feel distinct from one another, which stops the action from becoming stale.
Clearly Black Panther has a more serious tone than the majority of the films in the MCU with its political and social messages. But that does not mean that there is no humour. Shuri is a fantastic comic relief character. Not only is she intelligent and resourceful, but she is hilarious. The comedy doesn’t work as well with M’Baku however. At first he’s such an imposing and intense character, but when he starts making jokes it really doesn’t fit his character well at all. Ulysses Klaue is a little hit and miss as a character. He’s mostly very good, and Andy Serkis is clearly having fun with the role, however at times he’s too over the top. Much like with M’Baku’s humour it can take you out of the film a little.
But these faults are fairly minor. For the most part Black Panther is a wonderful, moving, and incredibly important film. The entire cast is wonderful, and Coogler’s screenplay and direction are excellent. Not only is Black Panther a fitting MCU entry, but much like last year’s Wonder Woman it is so much more than your general superhero film.