Rating: 4/5 Black Panther Pawprints
Minor Spoilers Ahead
Ryan Coogler’s “Black Panther” is a stylish, immersive film that has more to say about modern society than any Marvel movie yet.
Taking place immediately after the events of 2016’s “Captain America: Civil War,” “Black Panther” centers around T’Challa, portrayed by Chadwick Boseman, who returns to his technologically advanced nation of Wakanda to take his rightful place as king after his father’s death. Wakanda is a utopian nation in East Africa completely invisible to the outside world. The government maintains an isolationist mindset in fear of the discovery and exploitation of their exclusive resource, Vibranium. Unfortunately for T’Challa and the people of Wakanda, an uncompromising new adversary appears named Killmonger, portrayed by Michael B. Jordan, whose lust for the throne could spark global war.
Being the 18th film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, “Black Panther” needs to stand out from previous films to be worth the price of admission.
“Black Panther” shines in large part because of Coogler’s vision of Wakanda. Wakanda is a futuristic nation infused with lore, presented with tactile authenticity which makes it feel like a living, breathing society. The costumes, based on African tribal attire with futuristic flair, further viewers’ investment in Wakanda. The outstanding, amazing, flawless soundtrack perfectly captures the film’s cultural atmosphere.
Unlike other recent Marvel films — I’m looking at you, “Thor: Ragnarok” — “Black Panther” isn’t afraid to take a slower, more deliberate approach to developing Wakanda and its central characters. Coogler respects the audience. He hasn’t crafted a film which simply entertains viewers as they toss popcorn into their mouths. Rather, Coogler establishes context for the following action, as well as viewers’ emotional attachments to the characters, particularly concerning the three-dimensional antagonist.
Without venturing into spoiler territory, Michael B. Jordan’s “Killmonger” is a masterful villain, whose viewpoints are understandable and surprisingly agreeable. With condescending boastfulness and unexpected volatility, Killmonger almost outshines T’Challa himself. Killmonger also has a large role in the film’s social commentary, but viewers will have to discover this for themselves.
Coogler’s previous filmography, such as 2013’s heartbreaking “Fruitvale Station,” has frequently brought attention to the injustices minorities face in modern society. “Black Panther” doesn’t shy away from these themes either, presenting Wakanda as a flawed, narrow-minded utopia.
The film’s numerous female characters, especially Lupita Nyong’o’s fierce Nakia, have large roles in the film’s plot and action sequences. Hopefully, more films will take Coogler’s approach and continue to give actresses substantial roles. Cinema would be all the better for it.
While the complex setting and progressive viewpoints cement the film as a must-see, “Black Panther” isn’t without it’s problems.
For a comic book film, it’s surprising that the action sequences are its weakest aspect. While exciting, Coogler puts the camera too close to the actors. This renders a couple one-on-one fight scenes disorienting and difficult to follow. However, a car chase in the film’s first half is one of the most exhilarating chase sequences to hit the big screen in quite a while.
The film’s comedic relief occasionally breaks viewers’ immersion. Luckily, the film still has a decidedly grim tone compared to other films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Few comic book films have matched the complexity and distinct feel of “Black Panther.” It’s hard to imagine a more relevant, layered Marvel film releasing in 2018. “Avengers: Infinity War” has some lofty expectations to meet.