is the first great entertainment of 2018, and in my mind, is the best Marvel movie to come out in a while. Yes, the movie has all the action and stunts you would expect, but it really has so much more on its mind. It's a vibrant film, full of life, and with a large cast of characters who are all wonderfully developed and never once seem shortchanged or pushed to the background. It also has a wonderful setting that we haven't seen in the movies before. Not only that, it achieves what few superhero movies have been able to do, by giving us both a memorable hero and villain, and allows us to be engaged in their struggle. This is a movie that fires on all cylinders.
I will admit up front, I knew little about the Black Panther character or his comics walking in, other than his previous appearance in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. (He was introduced in Captain America: Civil War
.) I even walked into the film knowing little about it, as I tried my best to avoid the trailers, so it could be as fresh of an experience as possible. I feel this is the best way to approach the film, as it holds many wonderful surprises. Of course, this creates a problem for me the reviewer, as how do I express my thoughts on the virtues of the film without giving too much away? I will do my best to be vague with the plot details, as director and co-writer Ryan Coogler (Creed
) has made a lot of smart choices in telling the story. One of the wisest decisions he makes is to not waste a lot of time setting up the character. This is more of an Introduction Story, rather than an Origin Story.
It also has a lot to say about certain issues. The characters here talk a lot about their philosophy of inclusion, and competing the notions of isolation and nationalism. A lot of the characters are against building barriers to the outside world. This is very relevant, as the story is largely set in the fictional African country of Wakanda. To the outside world, Wakanda appears to be a struggling third world land filled with poverty and strife. This is all an illusion, however, as a technological shield covers the land and hides the truth from everyone. The truth is that Wakanda is the most technologically proficient country in the world capable of wonders in science, mechanics and medicine unheard of to the rest of the world. This is all due to a rare mineral from outer space known as Vibranium, which the people of Wakanda use to create all their technology and weapons. The land's true power and purpose must remain hidden to the outside world, as there are a lot of forces who have been searching for Vibranium and the power it holds, and could use it for evil purposes.
Wakanda's new King, T'Challa (Chadwick Boseman) takes the throne after his father is killed in a terrorist attack, an event that was depicted in the previously mentioned Civil War
. If that makes you nervous that you will have to see a lot of previous films in the Marvel Universe in order to catch up or to understand what's going on, do not worry. This is largely a stand-alone story, and it tells you all that you need to know without drowning in backstory. He also takes on the identity of the Black Panther, a superhero clad in an all black technological outfit that the ruler of Wakanda routinely takes on in order to protect his people. He is aided in his fight to keep the peace by his younger sister and scientist Shuri (Letitia Wright), who acts a lot like Q in the James Bond
franchise, creating new gadgets and weapons for her brother, which she proudly shows off to him in her lab before he goes out on a mission. The other two who stand by his side are his former lover, Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o), and the head of the military,
Okoye (Danai Gurira).
This leads to one of the more unexpected and wonderful elements of Black Panther.
This is a very female-centered superhero movie. All three of these female characters are fully fleshed out, and not only play a big part in the story, but are written with intelligence and wit. Even T'Challa's mother (Angela Bassett) is not a passive character, and remains a strong presence throughout the film. A lot of people praised last year's Wonder Woman
movie for its female empowerment angle, but in a lot of ways, I found this film to be even stronger in that regard. These are all supporting characters, and could have easily been pushed into the background or have simply disappeared when the plot deemed it necessary. Instead, they stand and even fight alongside Black Panther for pretty much the entire movie. Not only that, they are interesting, intelligent and well-written women characters who immediately grab your attention and hold onto it.
The plot centers around a black market arms dealer named Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis), who managed to steal some precious Vibranium weapons years ago, and is now attempting to sell them to terrorist armies. He has even fashioned a mechanical arm for himself, which doubles as a powerful arm cannon. The other central villain is Erik (Michael B. Jordan, who has appeared in all of director Ryan Coogler's films, creating a wonderful working relationship), who starts the film off as one of Klaue's lackeys, but his role in the story quickly grows for reasons I will not reveal. All I will say is that both Klaue and Erik serve as perfect antagonists for different reasons. Klaue is a somewhat comical, but definitely dangerous individual who murders without a second thought, while Erik is seemingly more controlled and maybe a bit likable, but just as unhinged, only by anger instead of madness. His role in the story creates a complex blend of a character we can sympathize with as well as a someone who is easy to hate for some of his actions. He's one of the better villains to appear in a Marvel film.
It is these wonderful characters and their expertly written and developed relationships that make Black Panther
one of the strongest entries in the expanding cinematic universe of Marvel Comics. Yes, the movie can be thrilling in its action, but it is just as thrilling because we really and truly care about everyone who inhabits the story. Nobody here is unimportant, and the movie would be lesser if one character was removed. There are no moments here that feel like padding or filler, and nothing feels out of place or unnecessary. This is a script that has clearly been thought out, and has been brought before the cameras by an expert team. The performances, the visuals, the cinematography, and even the music score all create a complete experience. Most importantly, the movie does not go flat in its final moments. The big "epic" battle sequence is grand, not chaotic. And the final standoff between the Black Panther and the main villain is built from much grander stakes than you would expect, and is appropriately thrilling instead of anticlimactic.
This is probably the most ambitious project to come out of Marvel Studios. While it follows the basic template of a superhero story, it breaks the traditional mold in so many ways. It not only creates a great heroic character that we want to see in many sequels, but it gives him an entire world and a rich supporting cast that we want to see more of as well. A lot of superhero introduction films are content to just give us a memorable hero. Black Panther
does so much more. It's intelligent, a hell of a lot of fun, brilliantly planned out, and just an all around superb entertainment.