By Chic DiCiccio
There is no doubt that the cultural significance of “Black Panther,” the 18th film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, is at a higher level than the 17 before it. This Marvel’s first with a predominantly black cast and creative team while focusing on a character that is potentially the most popular black comic book character of all time (sorry, Luke Cage; it’s true). All of those factors make this an important landmark in an insane business that spends upwards of $200 million on making a movie.
With all that being said … is it any good? Much like nearly every Marvel movie, the answer lies between “yes and no.” “Black Panther” does have more character development (particularly Michael B. Jordan’s fantastic villain, more on that later) and emotion than most comic book movies can offer, but it suffers from the same types of issues that plague the genre. It’s a bit long due to a slightly talky and slow midsection and there are moments of CGI that just look far too cartoonish.
“Black Panther” picks up after the introduction of T’Challa/Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) in “Captain America: Civil War.” In that film, T’Challa’s father was killed and now, he is returning home to be named the new King. His home, Wakanda (a 100 percent fictional African country), is the most technologically advanced country on Earth due to their mass deposit of Vibranium (a 100 percent fictional … umm … metal?), but they keep these advancements secret in an effort to protect their way of life.
While T’Challa is becoming the new King, Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis, last seen in “Avengers: Age of Ultron”) has been stealing vibranium disguised as Wakandan artifacts to sell on the black market. He’s aided by Erik “Killmonger” Stevens (Jordan), a dreadlocked, smooth talking, trained soldier who has a serious vendetta against all things Wakandan.
Director Ryan Coogler, who wrote the “Black Panther” script with Joe Robert Cole, and Jordan have created one of the most layered and sympathetic villains possible. The surprises that come with his character aren’t all that shocking, but Jordan is so invested in becoming an evil, yet sympathetic maniac that it makes you wish he was in the film more than he is. Basically, you will love to hate Jordan in this movie.
If Jordan’s Killmonger is a cynical, calculated sociopath then Boseman’s T’Challa is an earnest, eager and wholly honorable hero. Boseman, an extremely talented actor, is finally given an original character to create as opposed to portraying historical figures. Luckily, “Black Panther” isn’t a full out origin story, which usually leads to an actor having to go through the motions, and Boseman’s superhero has as much to do with his mind as he does physically.
Boseman and Jordan are formidable stars, but the ladies absolutely steal “Black Panther” away from them. Laetitia Wright is T’Challa’s younger sister and tech expert, Shuri, and her snappy comebacks provide the movie’s only comic relief.
Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o’s Nakia is not only T’Challa’s former girlfriend, she’s a spy who travels the world collecting intelligence. Finally, Danai Gurira is Okoye, the head of the all-female warrior group called the Dora Milaje. Okoye is a tough as nails and it would be a blast to watch Gurira punch and kick for hours.
Some of the greatest moments in “Black Panther” are the aerial views of the gorgeous “country” Wakanda when accompanied with a fantastic score by Ludwig Goransson. It appears just as futuristic as the cities in “Blade Runner 2049,” but shown with beaming optimism as opposed to dreary, nonstop rain. After nothing but low budget indies, Coogler definitely proves he’s capable of working with and getting the most out of a truly massive budget.
Any beefs with “Black Panther” are typical super hero movie problems. These movies are released with such rapid-fire pace that it’s nearly impossible for them to be unique. “Black Panther” does heavily benefit from its excellent cast and obvious care put into an important character. In fact, “Black Panther” is potentially the best proper introduction to a super hero since “Iron Man” and leaves plenty of room for sequels loaded with character development. If left in the hands of a clearly invested Coogler, it should be a fun ride.