Here’s our spoiler-free review of Marvel’s latest hit superhero movie Black Panther. Wakanda forever!
Now that arguably the sheen of superhero shared universes has worn off, the hottest thing to do at the moment seems to be to serve up comic book films that have their own distinct flavour – just look at Marvel’s three movies from last year, for example. In that regard, Black Panther is exactly what the world needs right now in many ways. Not only does it feature its oft-discussed predominantly black cast, it’s also a fresh, exhilarating twist on the Marvel Cinematic Universe template.
For one, it’s a joy to jump out of New York and to zoom back out of space to explore another part of the world – in this case, the fictional African nation of Wakanda. It’s a fantastic setting, a scientifically-advanced utopia that smartly subverts the stereotype of Africa as riddled with poverty. Some deft world-building quickly makes it feel like a three-dimensional, lived-in place.
Though we first met him in Captain America: Civil War, this is our first chance to really get to know Black Panther and, thankfully, he makes a big impression. In many ways, the character comes across as like a blend of The Lion King‘s Simba, Iron Man and James Bond – and every bit as cool as that sounds. Chadwick Boseman is great in the part, ensuring this super-powered monarch somehow remains relatable as he struggles to guide his kingdom to the best of his abilities.
It’s not just Black Panther who impresses, however, as the film has one of the strongest supporting casts we’ve yet seen in the franchise. For example, Lupita N’yongo’s Nakia isn’t even the most fleshed-out character in this film but she is still miles above the likes of Doctor Strange‘s Christine Palmer and even Thor‘s Jane Foster in terms of Marvel’s love interests.
The best female character on show, though, is Letitia Wright’s Shuri. She’s smart, fun and can handle herself in a fight, too. I’d love to see her geek out with Peter Parker in Avengers: Infinity War. The cast is an embarrassment of riches all-round, though, with the likes of Forest Whitaker, Angela Basset, Daniel Kaluuya and John Kani also supplying memorable turns.
Personally, I was most impressed with Michael B. Jordan as Killmonger, T’Challa’s nemesis. The art of a great supervillain is something that many MCU movies have been missing, but recent entries have picked up in this area and thankfully Black Panther continues that trend. Killmonger is a prime example of an antagonist who wouldn’t view himself as a villain: in fact, he’d be damn sure he’s a hero as he has lofty ambitions of using the might of Wakanda to liberate repressed minorities across the globe. Jordan plays the character with an electric blend of grit and menace.
Moreover, Black Panther is also one of the smartest entries we’ve yet seen in the MCU. Writer/director Ryan Coogler really digs deep into racial issues, exploring the relationship between the people of Africa and African-Americans and the common ancestry they share. Mixed in with that, though, you have grand, Shakespearan themes of what it means to be a king. Sure, the Thor franchise has already explored that too, but we’d argue Black Panther does it better.
If we do have a criticism, it’s that, surprisingly, the elements that connect it back to the MCU feel slightly awkwardly crowbarred in. For instance, the movie doesn’t seem to know what to do with Andy Serkis’ Ulyssess Klaue, who it inherited from Avengers: Age of Ultron. Likewise, Martin Freeman is a likeable presence as Everett Ross – first seen in Civil War – but he still feels a little superfluous. Almost like Marvel felt they had to get a recognisable white actor in there somewhere.
Overall, though, Black Panther is a right royal blast from start to finish and comfortably sits among the higher echelons of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. With the old guard likely being whittled down in Infinity War and its sequel, we expect to see much more of Boseman’s Wakandan wonder in the future of the MCU. Long live the king!