Marvel Studios once again exceeds all expectations with “Black Panther,” their most impressive display of passionate world-building and inventive storytelling portrayed by a cast of well-established favorites and exciting newcomers. Director Ryan Coogler and his creative team have done a meaningful job of not only making a political statement within a superhero flick, but also creating a social awareness for representation around it.
Following his debut in 2016’s “Captain America: Civil War,” the film follows T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) as he returns home to the fictional African nation of Wakanda to accept his rightful place as king. Upon arrival, the inexperienced ruler is challenged by relative outsider Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan), a ruthless mercenary who looks to use Wakanda’s most valuable resource for his own social cause. With the help of his allies and the nation’s special forces, T’Challa must defend his title as the Black Panther and the sovereignty of the country he has sworn to serve.
The greatest achievement of this film is Coogler’s celebration of African culture. From the rolling hills of the African savanna to the technologically progressive nation of Wakanda, “Black Panther” displays the most elegant and awe-inspiring depiction of the continent since “The Lion King.” This intricately crafted cinematography was clearly a top priority for the filmmakers and is unmatched by any previous Marvel film. Although the visuals keep audiences engaged throughout, its unprecedented score and soundtrack drive the emotional weight and cultural significance of the film.
With a balanced blend of traditional, percussion-heavy rhythms of traditional Africa and the experimental hip-hop tracks curated by Kendrick Lamar, the film is able to celebrate the modern and traditional nature of the African experience. Authentic attire and vibrant colors present in the costume design also contribute to the admiration of Africa’s heritage while still allowing the characters to maintain their own identity and unique style.
While the creative team perfectly conceives the nation of Wakanda, its characters and the impressive performances behind them are what give “Black Panther” a unique perspective. Chadwick Boseman leads the pack with a regal and nuanced turn as King T’Challa that will convince audiences of the character’s undeniable ability to govern a nation. The rest of the all-star cast is, of course, worthy of recognition, however a few actors in particular were able to command the screen whenever they got the chance.
Letitia Wright gives the film some necessary humor as the younger sister of T’Challa, while Winston Duke provides an uncommon, yet stirring perspective on the consequences of the nation’s isolationist nature as M’Baku, one of Wakanda’s tribe leaders. Commanding the Wakandan special forces is Okoye, portrayed by Danai Gurira of “The Walking Dead,” who quickly establishes herself as the best action heroine in this universe. Audiences will be excited to return to the world of Wakanda in the upcoming “Avengers: Infinity War,” where some of these characters will hopefully return to steal the show once more.
Aside from the cultural phenomenon that “Black Panther” has become, it is also important to note the film’s ability to introduce a politics-heavy narrative to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Coogler presents the nation of Wakanda as a hidden utopia, filled with enough resources to live in isolation while still neglecting the disadvantaged societies around the world. While T’Challa is a man of tradition and wishes to maintain the safety of his established nation regardless of the outside world, Killmonger stands on the opposite side of the argument.
Driven by a powerful performance from Michael B. Jordan, the character is a well-defined political adversary who aims to even out the economic and social disparities of modern society with the wrong means of doing so. The only negative aspect that holds this film back from the necessity for repeat viewing is its dependency on political tension as opposed to compelling action sequences. However, if the fight scenes portrayed in this film are only a small indication of what is possible with the character, audiences will be begging for an almost-guaranteed sequel.
Regardless of any previous experience with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, “Black Panther” is a must-see film for all audiences. This politically driven narrative filled with unique and well-developed perspectives has lead to a new chapter in comic-book filmmaking. More importantly, it delivers a breakthrough in cultural representation.