Is ‘Black Panther’ Marvel’s Most Important Movie Yet?
Marvel Studios

The 18th Marvel film takes Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s groundbreaking character to incredible new heights.

Warning! This review contains spoilers for “Black Panther.” Continue at your own risk...

 

Marvel’s cinematic universe has surpassed a certain scope and connectivity no one—perhaps not even studio head Kevin Feige—could have foreseen in their expectations. With one box office hit after another, the studio’s reputation has grown while its features have become more complex, nuanced, and sophisticated. You can chalk this up to a combination of visionary directors, increased budgets and A-list actors wanting in as the franchise balloons in popularity. But you can also thank the palpable undercurrents of humanity, pathos, and humor in the movies, something that the DC cinematic universe lacks. The 18th entry into the Marvel movie mythos, “Black Panther” (out today) is a prime example of those three elements that are expertly combined to create the studio’s best and most important film to date.

Co-written and directed by Ryan Coogler (“Creed”), the movie brings the first African superhero in mainstream American comics--who was created by two Jewish dudes--to the big screen in a tremendous way that isn’t just notable because the protagonist is black. Themes of race, leadership, responsibility, and owning up to one’s mistakes are all prevalent and while the characters and settings may be fake, the ideas sure aren’t. Other black superhero projects have come before, but “Black Panther” not only has the most to say, it says its piece in such a perfect way. Imagine “The Lion King” got fused together with “Selma” in Seth Brundle’s matter transporter.

A week after the events of “Civil War” and the death of his father (John Kani), Prince T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman with a flawless African lilt) returns home to Wakanda to be crowned the new king and protector of a country so technologically-advanced, that it’s had to hide away from those who’d want to utilize its resources for evil. To the world, Wakanda is just another Third World African nation.




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The king's first days as ruler find him unexpectedly traveling to South Korea to stop a known terrorist, Ulysses Klaue (a delightfully cooky Andy Serkis in a rare non-motion capture role). A mission in a seedy Korean casino and a rendezvous with an American CIA agent cements “Black Panther” as the “James Bond” of the MCU.

T’Challa’s vibranium suit and weapons are developed by his sister Shuri (Letitia Wright), the country’s chief science officer, a Q-esque master of gadgetry, and a hilariously witty sibling. In a way, Shuri is a representation of old versus new, which is the movie’s central focus. There’s a profound and respectful understanding of African culture mixed with modern day sensibilities and culture. And she’s not the only strong female character in a movie that’s got three: Shuri, Nakia (Lupita Nyong'o), and Okoye (Danai Gurira).

The main villain is Erik Killmonger (a viciously convincing Michael B. Jordan), the best and most developed Marvel villain since Loki, who proves that blood is thicker than Ultron. As other reviews have noted, Killmonger is the radical Malcolm X to T’Challa’s passive Martin Luther King Jr. Forged by years of bitterness and murder, Erik’s not the biggest fan of Wakanda’s isolationist policy, believing that the country’s technology should be used to help out its brethren around the world. And for once, it’s hard to disagree with a bad guy who talks a lot of sense.




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There’s no shying away from the concept of worldwide racism and the relationship between Africans and African Americans in a film that feels so distinctly different from the rest of the Marvel movies in the best way possible. If “Thor: Ragnarok” was an exercise in the studio letting loose by putting comedian Taika Waititi at the helm, then “Black Panther” is an exercise in maturity and reflection.

Daniel Kaluuya, Winston Duke, Angela Bassett, Forrest Whittaker, and Martin Freeman round out the cast, delivering powerful, funny, and touching performances that elevate the creation of Stanley Lieber and Jacob Kurtzberg to new heights. Meanwhile, the hip-hop-inspired soundtrack from Kendrick Lamar gives everything a contemporary edge, his tracks juxtaposing beautifully with the film’s more mystical aspects and musical cues by Ludwig Göransson.

Coogler has created a superhero movie that is smart, finessed, and empowering, not just for people of color, but for any person alive today, making it essential viewing material. There are exciting fight sequences, explosions, loud noises, and rapid fire jokes like any blockbuster needs to have, but there’s something more significant under those prerequisites, something that may change your view on the world. “Black Panther” is derived from 50 years of fanciful comic books, but its relevance and groundbreaking subject matter make it the most authentic Marvel film so far.

 

 

 

Black Panther

Ryan Coogler

Marvel Studios

Marvel

Chadwick Boseman

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