Black Panther is the first film in Marvel Studios’ banner tenth year and nothing that any thinkpiece or column could write can take away from the fact it is a great time at the cinemas. The story, the cast, the direction and the execution all amounted to one of the best entries into the Marvel Cinematic Universe ever. Certainly most people’s top three.
And it did it without pulling in any flagship heroes from other franchises, like the Captain America sequels, Ant-Man or Thor: Ragnarok. Ulysses Klaue and Everett Ross were introduced in Avengers: Age of Ultron and Captain America: Civil War respectively, but that was more of a case of those movies borrowing a Black Panther core character rather than vice versa. Black Panther stands proudly on its own two feet.
It is certainly a watershed moment in Hollywood, and representation certainly matters and the guaranteed success of this feature will inspire more studios to be more representative. The primarily black cast were relatable and it was never distracting… or whatever statements people throw in here to whitewash their movie. This cast’s acting chops were off the charts. Their skin colour doesn’t matter! Never in the hundred plus reviews I’ve written has that ever been an issue and I refuse to spend any more of the wordcount on it.
To reiterate, the ensemble is epic. Chadwick Boseman carries over from his backdoor entrance in Captain America: Civil War with a true headline act. Black Panther is as aspirational as Captain Ameirca and as cool as Tony Stark, and for bonus point he’s also royalty like Thor. A fine figure to include in the second-gen lineup than will take over post-Untitled Avengers.
His ex Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o) , a strong-willed spy with ambitions and desires and hopes far beyond wifing up the lead character, leaves her post at T’Challa’s request to help him mourn his father. The character is written with one foot outside of the world of Wakanda, and at times that helps glue together the disparate relations of spies, soldiers, royals and commoners. But her mettle and wisdom guide the King towards the ideals that make him a better hero, and that delicate performance (that includes a few kickass fight scenes) tallies another win on Nyongo’s CV. Interestingly, the young actress has now worked with Disney, Marvel and Lucasfilm, leaving only Pixar to not snap up one of the best new actresses in town.
T’Challa’s head bodyguard Okoye (Danai Gurrai) and little sister Shuri (Letita Wright) offer the film’s humour – the appropriate amount for a spy film, rather than the ludicrous levels of Thor: Ragnarok – but is their role models for young girls that have people talking.
But the MVP of Black Panther is unequivocally Kilmonger (Michael B Jordan). His arc in the film in simple but executed so brilliantly, so passionate a character and a performance, and he joins Marvel alum Loki atop the highest perch of respect. His teamup and savage dispatch of Black Panther’s nemesis Ulyssues Klaue was unexpected – rare in a blockbuster of this magnitude – and from that moment on the movie was thrilling.
At the end of the ride it was a Marvel movie through and through – three entertaining acts that hit the goals it needed to in order to make a megamovie for this decade – but it was where the film swerved that things became exciting. Hiring acclaimed director Ryan Coogler to add flourishes (and very few cuts) to battles more stylistic than usual. Utilising the culture to maximum impact without exploiting it and mixing that with sci-fi level tech created a space never brought to screen before.
Wakanda felt big because there were so many players within the walls. In fact the only people of import of the film without Wakanda heritage end up being Klaue and Everett Ross. Every other character was from the freshest and coolest part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
It helps there were no weak links – from acclaimed veterans Angela Basset and Forrest Whittaker to new face Winston Duke to Get Out‘s Daniel Kaluuya, this film was teeming with powerful actors delivering performances worthy of their reputation. Duke is an underrated delight and it’s reassuring to see him as a long-term player in T’Challa’s arc. Meanwhile Kaluuya’s performance was too good to be one-and-done, and here’s hoping Marvel taps the rising star for the sequel before too long.
Wakanda is a excellent time at the cinema and it only hypes Infinity War further. Boseman, Nyong’o, Gurrai, Wright and Duke are all confirmed to face Thanos’ army in the third act alongside Marvel’s immense roster of heroes. Where this leaves those five key players for Black Panther 2 is anybody’s guess, but after this sensational debut there is no stopping Marvel’s newest hero.