Please forgive any unseemly levels of hype that may leak between the lines of this review. I just arrived home from seeing the movie, and I find myself needing to write up something to assuage my jitters. I don’t think I’m able to accurately define my current emotional state. As I sit and try to organize my thoughts into something resembling a coherent response to the masterpiece I just witnessed, I find myself probing for flaws. If there are any at all, they are so well concealed that they would become nearly inconsequential. With that being said, Black Panther is a nearly perfect film, and without a doubt one of the best films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
We pick up in this film after Captain America 3: Civil War with The Black Panther, T’challa (Chadwick Boseman) preparing to become King of Wakanda after the death of his father. Wakanda, the small African nation blessed with a large deposit of the other worldly metal, vibranium, is a technological paradise and a land of dreams. Vibranium and its application brought their country leaps and bounds ahead of the rest of the world. Its people live life to a standard higher than the world around them, and it shows. Every character in this movie showed a level of professionalism in what they did, and a profound respect to their country (or resolve for their goals).
Let’s get the obvious out of the way. This movie is black. We knew that before going, but then actually witnessing it was an experience entirely its own. Not only does it bring to mind the phrase “all black everything,” the implementation of culture is so natural that it makes you forget that you’re watching something that portrays Afrocentrism so intuitively… until you remember—and that is when those emotions wash over you.
Nothing like this has ever been done before, and the richness—the rawness—of it is overwhelming. We get the tribal rituals and dances. We get urban life in America. We get high life in Korea. None of it seems unnatural, and none of it feels as if it was to be meant as a joke or a caricature of reality. I felt as if I what was being shown was genuine and done in a respectable manner.
Quite like in the comics, T’challa proves his worth as Black Panther and King of his people, and they respect him and his ideals. He leads his people with these ideals. He is a king in every right. We can see this through dialogue and confidence in countenance, as well as his supreme combat skills. What I like even more is the sense we get that every warrior in Wakanda fights on a higher level than that of the world around them. Even as T’Challa completes his challenges, you can see just how formidable his foes are.
Then there are the women. I have never before seen women of color portrayed in this way on any screen before. Dark, beautiful, strong, intelligent skilled women. I repeat never. The strength of these women are boundless, and I found that their fighting, was often more appealing to watch than T’challa’s. Okoye (Danai Gurira) is the leader of the Dora Milaje (the warrior women of Wakanda) and one of the most skilled fighters in the MCU. I would love to see her “move” Black Widow. Hell, I would put her up against nearly any of the Avengers. Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o) is the Black Panther’s love, a spy and also extremely skilled fighter. T’challa’s sister, Shuri (Letitia Wright) is behind all of Wakanda’s latest technology, and I marvel at the respect they give her in this role. And the technology in this movie as it so very well designed. Seeing so many strong, commanding women of color is one of the things that literally brought tears to my eyes.
The relationships and interactions between characters was also another strong point for me. There was a profound love between people like T’Challa and Okoye, or Okoye and Nakia, or Shuri and T’Challa. Each relationship had its own uniqueness that helped us to understand the ties between these characters. Every dollop of dialogue held weighted meaning, every conversation a lesson. Not once did I feel as if I could write something off as idle conversation. It all meant something.
The villains in this movie were Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis) and Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan). Killmonger is a layered and complex villain deserving of his opposition to T’Challa. Michael B. Jordan performed exceedingly well, and while none of this was a direct comic adaptation the movie hit us with several callback references to the comics for fans to go giddy over. I was one of those giddy fans. In fact, like many of the small changes they made for this movie, I liked what was done with Killmonger. It made him more believable and even relatable, depending on your perspective.
Every fight scene in the movie was a spectacle to watch, especially given that these strong women of color were at the center of most of them. The scene in Korea was one of the most visually appealing in the MCU yet, and those that take place in Wakanda during both the challenges and the actual battles bringer a whole new level of combat to the MCU. With Wakanda’s technology mixed with afrocentric culture, we get visuals that we would never imagined seeing in other movies, such as armored battle rhinos for instance. All of it was stunning.
Director Ryan Coogler exceeded my expectations for this film. I knew I would like it on principle, just for fact that one of my favorite heroes (if not favorite) was finally getting his due on screen. Not to mention the fact that the cast made me ready to see the film than anything else. But I wasn’t ready for what I saw. I wasn’t ready for the heaping helpings of afro-futurism or the flawlessness of story and plot. This may be the best move in the MCU, and that fact alone, brings tears to my eyes.
Verdict: 5 out of 5