In 1992, Wesley Snipes began planning to bring the character of Black Panther to the big screen, but his idea never came into fruition. Now after two decades, director Ryan Coogler and actor Chadwick Boseman not only brought the character to film, but to life. After first appearing in 2016’s “Captain America: Civil War,” “Black Panther” follows newly inaugurated King T’Challa as he attempts to lead the African nation of Wakanda, as well as save the world from a dangerous new foe.
“Black Panther” is the eighteenth installment in the “Marvel Cinematic Universe,” but it is the first to feature a predominantly black cast and the first to feature a black director. Coogler, who directed “Fruitvale Station” and “Creed,” propels the “Marvel Cinematic Universe” to new heights with “Black Panther.” The man truly has a gift for bringing together a talented cast and directing emotionally moving stories with realized characters and great tonal balance.
Chadwick Boseman returns as T’Challa/Black Panther following the events of “Civil War,” and his performance is truly superb. Marvel Studios has a knack for casting excellent leads that perfectly embody their characters, such as Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark, Chris Evans as Captain America, and Chris Hemsworth as Thor, and Boseman is no exception. He portrays T’Challa as a young man trying to honor his people’s culture as well as facing his own demons within. He is a good man striving to be a good king, which unfortunately is a very difficult thing to do. There are many emotional moments T’Challa, and Boseman delivers a truly moving performance.
The other standout is Michael B. Jordan’s villainous Killmonger. It’s no secret that previous Marvel movies struggle with forming a villain that is as interesting as it’s protagonist, but the character of Killmonger shatters that stereotype. For once, Marvel has delivered a villain that is not only interesting, but whose goals are almost justifiable. The best villains are the ones who think they are right, and in Killmonger’s case, he just may be, creating not only internal conflict with the title character, but with the audience. Jordan delivers perhaps the best performance of the film, and that is saying something. Killmonger feels like the yin to Black Panther’s yang, and when the two are on screen together, it gets completely emotional, another aspect lacking in Marvel films.
The supporting cast is equally excellent. Andy Serkis returns from “Avengers: Age of Ultron” as the vibranium stealing arms dealer Klaw, and he is given plenty of time to shine as a delightfully zany baddie. Letitia Wright is introduced as T’Challa’s genius little sister, Shuri, and she provides some genuinely comical moments that are sure to have the audience laughing, as will Martin Freeman’s Everett Ross, who serves the plot perfectly as a fish-out-of-water character who is completely mesmerized by the technological advancements of Wakanda.
Not only does “Black Panther” finally allow a large cast of black actors to take the spotlight, but women are also given time to shine. Lupita Nyong’o’s Nakia and Danai Gurira’s Okoye continuously steal every scene that they’re in, making it more and more obvious that Marvel needs to continue putting focus on its female characters.
Other elements of the film that are impressive are the production, costume design, and musical score. The film is beautifully shot and beautifully rendered. Colors pop and shine throughout, making it one of the most visually pleasing of the Marvel films. The same can be said for the costumes, which feature fantastic designs and hypnotic color schemes. Ludwig Goransson returns for his third collaboration with Coogler, after scoring his previous two films, and his soundtrack serves as the perfect backdrop to a film that is beautifully directed. He blends together traditional African music with contemporary tracks, making the soundtrack feel like a cultural homage to the entire continent of Africa.
The largest criticism I have of the film is a minor one, and that is the computer-generated imagery. Although it is not truly important, there are moments where the film looks like a video game, and it can be a tad distracting. However, these moments are few and pass fairly quickly, making it a very minor flaw in an otherwise great picture.
I was ecstatic to see Marvel finally deliver a film that featured cultural milestones such as black and female representation to the big screen. Coogler and writer Joe Robert Cole penned a fantastic story that not only brought African and Black culture to a wide audience, but also honored it. With the first Marvel film featuring a predominantly black cast, a black director, and black writers, “Black Panther” is not only a near-perfect film, but one of the greatest cultural milestones in cinema.