“Black Panther” may arguably be the best solo superhero film Marvel Studios has delivered since the first “Iron Man” film almost ten years ago.
Between its talented and committed cast, its ambitious script and exemplary balance of action and character-driven drama, it represents the finest of what Marvel’s films can be: inspiring tales of heroism that also challenge audiences to think in new ways about the complicated relationship between power, responsibility, and choice.
What’s it about?
Marvel introduced audiences to T’Challa/Black Panther, played by Chadwick Boseman, in 2016’s “Captain America: Civil War.” “Black Panther” picks up shortly after the end of that film, with T’Challa, still grieving over the death of his father, King T’Chaka (John Kani), returning to his native Wakanda to take his place as the nation’s new king.
But his ascension to power is complicated by the re-surfacing of an old enemy, Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis), and a seemingly unfamiliar one, an American mercenary (Michael B. Jordan) nicknamed “Killmonger” for his prolific lethality.
Killmonger has the grandest of ambitions in mind for Wakanda and its many technological wonders, all of which have remained entirely unknown to the world outside its borders. To stop him, T’Challa will need more than just friends, technology and the power of the Black Panther.
He’ll need to prove beyond any doubt that he’s worthy to be what his nation needs him to be – not just a good man, but also a good king.
Smart, challenging script
When Marvel Studios released the original “Iron Man” film almost ten years ago, what set it apart from most superhero action films to that point was the strength of its script. Aside from delivering the hero’s origin story, it actually had something to say about social responsibility in the real world, and posed challenging questions about what role those with power and technology should have in such a world, especially considering how those without such advantages can be made to suffer.
Since then, while Marvel has consistently delivered thrilling and innovative adventures for Iron Man and the other heroes the studio has populated its shared universe with, the ambition to explore such weighty issues hasn’t always been there.
In “Black Panther,” however, it’s everywhere. Writer/director Ryan Coogler (“Creed”, “Fruitvale Station”) asks hard questions in this story, about the choices a prosperous nation makes in order to maintain its prosperity and security while beyond its borders war, division, corruption and death define daily life.
But of course, it’s not all philosophy and moral questions here. Coogler also delivers the goods when it comes to the film’s action, using locations, CGI, and impressive fight choreography to deliver thrilling set pieces the equal of any previous Marvel solo superhero outing.
Casting reigns supreme
No doubt, “Black Panther” features one of the most celebrated ensembles ever brought together for a Marvel film, and that’s saying a lot, considering the groups the studio has assembled over the years. Again, it speaks to the quality of Coogler’s script and the strength of his vision for the character and his story that he could cast Oscar-winners Angela Bassett, Forest Whitaker, and Lupita N’yongo in supporting roles while featuring up-and-coming stars Boseman and Jordan in the leads.
Speaking of Boseman and Jordan, their antagonistic chemistry is as compelling as we’ve seen between hero and “villain” in any superhero film to date, Marvel or other studios. Jordan’s work is particularly memorable, since his character is new and it’s a darker type of character than what he’s taken on in the past, even working with Coogler.
Jordan’s fearsome intensity, when paired off with Boseman’s natural charisma, dignity, and physical presence, should have audiences on the edge of their seats in anticipation of when they finally clash.
But they’re not the only ones who shine in “Black Panther.” Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, and Letitia Wright each command the screen in their own ways, easily matching the film’s men in terms of presence. Wright, in particular, stands out thanks to her getting many of the film’s funnier quips and one-liners.
For Marvel fans, whether “Black Panther” is worth seeing isn’t even a question. The only real questions are whether to go to an early showing the night before opening weekend and whether to spend on a premium option such as 3D or IMAX.
The appeal of “Black Panther” should extend far beyond Marvel and superhero film fandom, however. Casual movie goers who give it a shot will be rewarded with a thrilling adventure powered by thoughtful writing and a compelling dramatic vision.
Take a trip to Wakanda. You won’t regret it.
Starring Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Martin Freeman, Daniel Kaluuya, Letitia Wright, Winston Duke, Sterling K. Brown, with Angela Bassett, Andy Serkis, and Forest Whitaker. Directed by Ryan Coogler.
Running time: 134 minutes
Rated PG-13 for prolonged sequences of action violence, and a brief rude gesture.