“Black Panther” is the latest addition to Marvel’s cinematic universe and stars Chadwick Boseman as T’challa. Directed by Ryan Coogler, “Black Panther” picks up T’challa’s story right after the events of “Captain America: Civil War” where we first met him as he deals with the aftermath of his father’s death and his ascension to the throne. The film introduces us to the African nation of Wakanda for the first time after audiences were fed small hints about it in earlier Marvel films.
One of the most interesting elements of this film is the design of Wakanda itself. The cities of Wakanda are built with a unique and visually striking mix of ancient African influences and advanced technology. The combination makes for a very unique-looking environment that we haven’t seen in the MCU up to this point. The closest we’ve come to seeing something like it is probably in the “Thor” films where alien technology is infused with Norse culture.
In several ways, Wakanda itself is what drives the action and moves the plot, whether it be fight sequences that come from ancient rituals or the isolationism that is provoking both the heroes and villains. Like the nation of Wakanda, “Black Panther” feels isolated from the rest of the Marvel films in that there are almost no references to events happening outside of T’challa’s personal conflict or callbacks to other films. Considering that Marvel’s biggest film yet, “Avengers: Infinity War” is just a few months away, it’s surprising to see how personal and contained Coogler’s film is.
Like all of Marvel’s films, there is a mix of action and humor, but this time around the jokes feel a little more evenly spread out than some earlier films with a lot of the humor coming from the female leads. The general of Wakanda’s armies Okoye, played by Danai Gurira, and T’challa’s sister Shuri, played by Letitia Wright, are both able to generate action and comedy in their roles. Particularly Okoye, who steals all the fight scenes that don’t involve the technology of the Black Panther suit.
The villain, and maybe the most interesting character in the film, is Erik Killmonger. Without getting into spoiler territory, Killmonger, played by Michael B. Jordan, stands out as one of the MCU’s most sympathetic and intimidating antagonists to date. Not unlike Michael Keaton’s Vulture from “Spiderman: Homecoming,” we see Killmonger as the villain of the story, but if you look at things from his perspective, it is easy to sympathize with his story and understand what is motivating him. My only complaint is that we didn’t get enough of him, because Jordan controls every scene he is in and should be mentioned amongst Marvel’s best villains so far.
There may not be quite enough action for everybody and if you’re hunting for references to other films and characters you’ll be disappointed, but it’s the intimacy of “Black Panther” that makes it interesting. Nit-picks like pacing and effects don’t stand out as much when you like and care about all the characters, so Coogler’s decision to keep the focus strictly on Wakanda pays off.
With “Infinity War” coming up in May, it should be very interesting to see how T’challa, his allies and Wakanda will be wrapped up in the chaos.
Griffin’s score: 5/5 stars
Copyright 2018 Humble Roots, LLC. All Rights Reserved. Image courtesy of Marvel.