Just when you think there’s nothing more the superhero movie genre can offer, Marvel steps up its game yet again and brings an entirely new perspective. With Black Panther the studio has given us yet another excuse to spend two hours at the local theater. But more importantly Black Panther lands as the most empowering and important entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe thus far.
In the masterful hands of director Ryan Coogler (Fruitvale Station, Creed), Black Panther is not only a visual treat, offering up non-stop stunning visuals (amplified by plenty of well-worth-it 3D), but it’s jam-packed with invested actors telling a complex and relevant story in a long-overdue way. The MCU hasn’t exactly been a bastion for diversity, and with the exception of Scarlett Johansson’s sporadic supporting turns as Black Widow, female representation has been thin, too. Both of those go out the window with Black Panther.
Chadwick Boseman debuted the character in 2016’s Captain America: Civil War, but here he gets top billing as T’Challa, the king of Wakanda, and though he’s the titular lead, he’s content to share the screen with a seemingly endless cavalcade of top-of-their game actors, including Forest Whitaker, Angela Bassett, Lupita Nyong’O, and Michael B. Jordan.
After a prologue provides the history of Wakanda and explains how it fits into the MCU, the action gets underway in 1992 Oakland (where Coogler himself grew up). King T’Chaka (Atandwa Kani) is visiting his brother N’Jobu (Sterling K. Brown) to confront him about some stolen vibranium, the superhero-creating substance that is Wakanda’s most precious natural resource. Fast-forward to present day, and T’Chaka has just been killed (as shown in Civil War), leaving T’Challa in power. At the same time, the evil Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis) has partnered with Erik Killmonger (Jordan) and stolen vibranium of his own from a British museum, forcing T’Challa, as Black Panther, to spring into action and track it down.
When Killmonger’s identity is revealed (no spoilers!), it throws Wakanda into turmoil, and a battle breaks out, causing T’Challa to rally his troops, including tech-savvy sister Shuri (Letitia Wright), super-spy Nakia (Nyong’o), and warrior Okoye (Danai Gurira). Completing the team is CIA agent Everett Ross (Martin Freeman).
Coogler (who co-wrote the script) threw his all into Black Panther, and it’s clear his cast followed suit. Not content to make “just another superhero movie”, everyone (including Mudbound’s Oscar-nominated cinematographer Rachel Morrison and soundtrack curator Kendrick Lamar) stepped up his or her game to elevate the movie far past the level of throw-away popcorn fare. Along with full-drawn characters and brilliant acting, the empowering message (both for African-Americans and women) is not only necessary but done so well that you may well forget it’s a superhero movie at all.
But never fear, it is still a superhero movie, complete with the trademark Marvel humor and a generous handful of nifty cameos, including a pretty good one in the post-credits scene. Come ‘cause it’s a Marvel movie, stay because it’s the best of the bunch…and a whole lot more.
Worth the 3D glasses?
Absolutely, though it’s not critical. The movie is perfect enjoyable without them, but there’s more than enough 3D-happy-fun-time to plop down the extra couple bucks.