Letting go of its status as a monumental success in cultural representation, “Black Panther” is a triumph in blockbuster cinema, the likes of which Hollywood hasn’t seen since the release of “The Avengers.”
Pressing the latter would be a particularly important item of note to keep in mind, as the more short-sighted would probably be ready to dismiss its hype based solely on the skin tone and heritage of its fictional cast. That said, “Black Panther” is a borderline masterpiece of genre filmmaking at its finest before even beginning to delve into the nature of its identity politics that weave a unique tale the likes of which couldn’t have been told attached to any other ethnicity.
Chadwick Boseman reprises his role as Wakandan prince T'Challa from “Captain America: Civil War,” preparing to take on the mantle of king in the wake of his father’s death. As he begins to settle into his new position, grappling with Wakanda’s questionable historic policy of isolationism, a former US soldier going by the name Killmonger has sights on tearing down the throne of Wakanda and spreading their advanced technological influence around the world.
If the themes of abandonment, isolationism, anti-immigration, and classism from a country that hypocritically has itself embedded within the infrastructures of most developed countries sounds uncomfortably familiar, that correlation is just the tip of the iceberg. The film is unafraid to address the toxicity that breeds when a powerful country isolated from the rest of the world shuns globalism in favor of self-centered jingoism and the place of fear mongering that such policy stems from.
Ultimately however, these matters that we have to tackle in our own everyday lives become an undertone for a blockbuster crafted in the fashion of the mid to late twentieth century better than recent entries of its codifying “Star Wars” franchise.
The movie may be called “Black Panther” but is scope is much grander than the inner turmoil of its titular character. Boseman continues to give a great portrayal of T’Challa, whose general stoicism is broken down by his close personal connections but almost everybody in the cast manages to steal the spotlight from one another whenever they’re on screen.
Michael B. Jordan’s Killmonger is unquestionably one of the best villains of a superhero movie in recent history for reasons I dare not spoil. His three dimensional character development is shared amongst the entire cast, including Lupita Nyong'o, Danai Gurira, and Letitia Wright as his no-nonsense love interest Nakia, duty bound bodyguard Okoye, and the brainy gadget producing sister Shuri, all of whom rank as some of the best characters in the entire cast of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Beyond the sprawling nature of its cast however, the very concept of “Black Panther” was always a bizarrely genre-fusing experiment, so director Ryan Coogler’s approach to it manages to be a certain kind of brilliant that seems odd to define on paper but is a true glory to behold on screen. The nature of a nation’s political leader putting himself on the battlefield of superheroics is not lost on the film and the resulting movie is an organic blend of genres unlike anything ever seen before, making a Marvel Superhero movie that feels truly different from the rest of its pack despite co-opting the foundation of the setting established before it.
“Black Panther” is a strong superhero movie, as well as a better spy movie than the last 3 “James Bond” movies combined, as well as a Shakespearean family drama more powerful than what “Thor” has attempted, a genuine science fiction film with its idealized afrofutrism aesthetic contributing to a fresh narrative of the changing walls that separate society in an increasingly global future, and a political thriller a la “Game of Thrones” that explores concepts of classism and revolution far better than Marvel’s own “The Inhumans” television series.
Coogler manages a nearly flawless juggling act between character threads and plot concepts. The only real flaw to “Black Panther” is that despite ending on a powerful note, its actual climax defaults to something fairly standard and blasé.
The actual filmmaking on display is solid but its downgrade in creativity compared to the rest of the films preceding it can feel like a slight letdown and contribute to a minor pacing problem the film has that makes it feel like it could use a 10-minute trim.
“Black Panther’s” minor structural faults however don’t diminish its bold vision and phenomenal craftsmanship that easily make it one of the best films of the Marvel Cinematic Universe to date.
4 out of 5
Graduating from Texas A&M University—Commerce with a bachelor's degree in News and Editorial Journalism, Jordan Wright has lived most of his adult life professionally critiquing films, from major blockbusters to indie dramas, and has no intentions of stopping.