Let’s get this out of the way before we go further: this is not the first black superhero movie. It’s not even the first black superhero movie from Marvel. Stop saying this major news outlets, it is untrue. There might be woefully few black superhero movies, but that doesn’t mean you can’t do your research.
Now, back to the movies. Marvel is currently on a hit train and shows no signs of stopping anytime soon. Black Panther is arguably the studio’s most bold creation yet. A stunning visual treat with well though-out social commentary, an amazing cast and a rising star director, Panther is the most mature Marvel movie to date.
T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) is set to inherit the throne of his father’s kingdom: the African nation of Wakanda. His father, T’Chaka, died in Civil War during a terrorist attack, a threat that terrifies the seclusive nation ever since Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis) broke in, stole some vibranium, and blew his way out. Klaue knows what few others do, that Wakanda is secretly the richest and most advanced nation on Earth, a fact they keep hidden from the rest of the world. But there are factions who want Wakanda to take their place on the world stage. With their vibranium technology they could help the entire planet reach a new age of enlightenment and health. Or, if so inclined, they could take it by force.
Which brings us to the main villain: Erik Killmonger, played by a fucking fantastic Michael B. Jordan. A former CIA hitman, Killmonger has a secret. He is a blood relative of the royal family, he knows the rights of succession, and he wants to end the cycle of oppression in the world by using Wakanda’s powers to rule the world. Violence as a means for peace. He continues the latest tradition of Marvel movies: villains you care about. Villains with 3-dimensional back stories and motivations beyond “I want more power.” Jordan gets to act in some of the more emotional scenes and you really feel for him in a significant way.
Black Panther is impressive beyond the villain though. Wakanda is a heck of a lot of lore and myth you have to feed an audience. Most of us know Greek mythology and don’t need Wonder Woman to explain it to us, but most of us know nothing of Wakanda. In brief spits we learn quickly and naturally, exposed to an incredibly detailed and clearly thought out world.
Another facet to Panther that is largely missing from other Marvel films is music. Remember when Iron Man opened to AC/DC? Or when Guardians of the Galaxy actually had a soundtrack? Well, Marvel hired Kendrick Lamar to make Black Panther infinitely better. I can’t remember the last time Marvel’s soundtrack actually made a chase scene noticeably cooler/more exciting with music.
Fantastic acting, a well-paced story with a lot to say about what a powerful nation’s role in the world should be, Black Panther is a great film. I think everyone who sees it will take something different from it, depending on their background. But I think there are two things that are most important: sins from the past always rise up their ugly heads, and compassion is the most important trait in a leader. Try not to cry at the sunset.
Oh, I guess there’s a third one: don’t base your system of governance around a fight to the death.
3.5 out of 4 stars.