Black Panther review Chadwick Boseman Lupita Nyong'o Letitia WrightYear: 2018
Director(s): Ryan Coogler
Writer(s): Ryan Coogler, Joe Robert Cole
Region of Origin: USA

Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1
Rating: PG-13
Digital, Color, 134 mins

Synopsis: T’Challa, the King of Wakanda, rises to the throne in the isolated, technologically advanced African nation, but his claim is challenged by a vengeful outsider (Source)

At 18 films in, Marvel has taken us past the borders of our galaxy, allowed us to peak between the fabric of known reality, introduced us to gods, made us fall in love with a tech genius billionaire and explored the meaning of heroism in more ways than one. Still, out of everything Marvel’s accomplished, Black Panther is the film that hits closest to home. Though the film’s titular character isn’t the first black superhero to make it to the silver screen, he is is the first to finally confront and embrace African society’s place in the world, both past and present. Ryan Coogler has crafted an intimately personal film, transforming Afrofuturist aesthetic into artistic revolution. This is proof that the symbolism behind superheroes matter, and that it’s wholly possible to weaponize a commercial blockbuster into a cry for revolution. This isn’t merely a film, it’s a passionate plea for everyone, no matter what race, to do better.

The story picks up after the fallout of Captain America: Civil War. With the untimely death of his father, T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) is tasked with picking up the Black Panther mantle, a position that promises to protect and uphold the traditions of his home, Wakanda. Complicating things further, Wakanda is at a crossroads. Delicately and deliberately hidden away, it’s the most technologically advanced nation in the world, and its best-kept secret. Amidst the heels of T’Challa’s coronation, however, is a threat that wants to challenge Wakanda’s ideology. As T’Challa struggles to diffuse external threats, he learns of a dark family secret which could topple Wakanda and challenge its very way of existence.

Black Panther review Chadwick Boseman Michael B. JordanWhile other Marvel films have used diverse genres to claim identity, Coogler’s film finds identity through its African roots. In that sense, the film carries real backbone, acknowledging its culture’s tragic past and contrasting it with a mythical, advanced African nation untainted by western greed. Going further, the story’s strength is realizing that no civilization is an island, finding a perspective that gives power and agency back to its characters while giving their story relevance in today’s politically divided and socially volatile world. The film’s superheroism doesn’t just come from a royal family struggling to uphold the ideals of their ancestors, it comes from addressing race relations in a very sobering and real way. Ultimately, the film’s celebration of African culture is cathartic, full of genuine wonder and empowering, never shying away from bleak struggles, but also transcending them in ways that we can completely relate to.

In terms of its entertainment value as a Marvel movie, this installment again finds the studio in near-bulletproof form, breaking their own narrative structure to give us a story that hits hard. Yes there are gadgets and globe-trotting missions that would make Bond jealous, but it’s the film’s adherence to intimate character struggle that makes the world come to life, even with lavish production design and giant, action spectacle. It’s a testament to Coogler, that he’s able to blend unflinching grit with futuristic sophistication, and just on a visual level (big ups to Rachel Morrison’s cinematography), the film is a sensory experience that never fails to wow.

Black Panther review Danai GuriraAnother indelible aspect of the film is its massive ensemble cast. Chadwick Boseman again wows as T’Challa, a man torn between his own heart and the needs of his kingdom, making such a big burden feel like a relatable, exposed nerve. But it’s honestly Boseman’s backing cast that steals everything. T’Challa is surrounded by strong women, not just physically, but in character, deed and conviction, thanks to casting like Lupita Nyong’o’s Nakia, Danai Gurira’s Okoya and Letitia Wright’s Shuri, the latter of whom may be the film’s true MVP. Each of these women bring so much to the table and don’t overlap each other in anyway. Marvel’s villain problem also doesn’t work with Michael B. Jordan’s Killmonger, who is so fully fleshed out and oozing with unavoidable pathos. Jordan’s charisma betrays his violence, fleshing out a villain with such a devastating motivation. His arc, and where he ends up isn’t something I dare spoil – let’s just say Marvel’s gonna be hard-pressed to find another adversary that is this urgent and woke.

Black Panther could’ve been breezy, brainless fun, but it chooses to be about something more. Because of this, I can’t say enough about what Coogler’s accomplished. The director truly goes beyond spectacle, using inclusion to deliver a message that transcends race. That the film manages to tackle things like racial identity, the refugee crisis and what it’s like to grow up in Oakland should show you that Coogler isn’t messing around. Needless to say, one review isn’t enough for something this monumental, and I look forward to the way it lingers in pop culture, all while sowing seeds and pushing boundaries for what we can and expect from our superhero films. Above all, this film proves that comic book characters aren’t just the sum of brightly-colored panels on a page or Saturday morning cartoons, they’re symbols that show us who we are.