Review: Black Panther a Masterpiece

With stunning visuals, an amazing cast and a strong story of superhero politics and intrigue, BLACK PANTHER continues the string of Marvel successes and pays off the anticipation that has built since the character debuted.

BLACK PANTHER
Directed by Ryan Coogler 
Written by Ryan Coogler and Joe Robert Cole 
Run Time: 134 minutes 

Up until the last few months, I knew very little of Marvel hero Black Panther. As a comic book fan, though one that doesn’t really read Marvel comics, I was aware of the basics of the character but he was never really on my radar. My interest in the character was definitely piqued with his inclusion in CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR. But if I’m being completely honest, coming out of that movie I was much more interested in a Falcon-Winter Soldier buddy cop movie, a la LETHAL WEAPON.

Yes, I still want that movie, but that’s besides the point. There are no plans for that movie, but we did get a feature film starring T’Challa, King of Wakanda, and the hero known as Black Panther. And it was an amazing picture filled with action, humor and political commentary that fits in as well today as it would have when the character was created in the 1960s.

After his father was murdered during CIVIL WAR, T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) returns home to Wakanda, an African nation that has hidden its technological superiority behind the facade of being a poor nation for centuries. T’Challa takes his rightful place on the throne, but he has more responsibilities than just ruling Wakanda. His duties as the country’s protector, handed down through the generations, also weigh heavily on the head that wears the crown. After a mission to South Korea to take down Ulysses Klaue – last seen in AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON – Klaue’s partner Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan), who is also T’Challa’s cousin, challenges and defeats the king for his crown and the mantle of Black Panther. T’Challa and his allies must regroup and defeat Killmonger before he sends Wakandan weapons into the world to destabilize the established power structure.

While many of the heroes in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, with the possible exception of Captain America, are flawed, T’Challa may be the most pure hero we’ve seen introduced in the universe. Boseman’s portrayal is perfectly nuanced, as T’Challa struggles with the responsibilities to his people as king and his desire to do right by them while honoring his father’s memory along with the need to move Wakanda forward. Boseman carries the movie wonderfully, with his ability to portray a serious man with a serious job as well as one who sees the benefit of the joy his family and friends can bring him. The scenes Boseman shares with Letitia Wright, who plays T’Challa’s sister Shuri, are genuinely delightful.

Wright, along with Lupita Nyong’o and Danai Gurira, gives BLACK PANTHER a trio of strong female supporting characters as well. Less than a year since Gal Gadot proved a female-led superhero movie could be successful in WONDER WOMAN, the women of BLACK PANTHER show that female characters can be more than just damsels in distress or plot contrivances. That T’Challa would never have been able to regain his throne from Killmonger without Shuri or Nakia (Nyong’o) took nothing away from the king, but showed how important they were to not just T’Challa, but to Wakanda. And the inner conflict shown by Okoye (Gurira), a Wakandan general, in following orders when Killmonger takes over shows how much T’Challa meant to his subjects.

The conflict between T’Challa and Killmonger, left alone in Oakland, Calif. when T’Challa’s father killed his traitorous brother, is a familiar one in Marvel lore. The battle between peace and acceptance by any means necessary is the same fight X-Men leader Charles Xavier has had with his arch-nemesis Magneto. Given that Xavier and Magneto’s war was adapted from the ideological divide between the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X, it takes the complicated topic of Black power and diffuses into a comic book story. While T’Challa has been mostly sheltered from the outside world, Killmonger has served as a soldier and saw the inequality and prejudice that Blacks around the world have faced. His desire to take the hi-tech weapons Wakanda has developed and distribute them as a means of giving his brethren the upper hand makes him less of a villain and more an activist desperate to see his side win.

Jordan was such a great foil for Boseman, and provided the same level of comedic timing, and I’d argue that his Killmonger is one of the best antagonists in any of the Marvel films so far. Just three years ago, Jordan made his live-action superhero debut as Johnny Storm in the most recent Fantastic Four reboot, and I’m very happy that he managed to wipe the stink of that picture off to get cast here, because he’s much better than that. Much like the last guy who played Johnny Storm.

Outside of the phenomenally-written characters and the compelling story, the cinematography of the movie and the effects to create Wakanda were completely breathtaking. Every scene in Wakanda was a beautiful landscape while the action that took place outside the country were choreographed so well. Without that, BLACK PANTHER wouldn’t have been as great a movie.

In a year where Marvel is putting out its biggest crossover movie yet in AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR, the studio came out of the gate with one of its strongest solo outings in a long time in BLACK PANTHER, which will certainly keep fans wanting more as they count down to the first weekend in May.