Review by J.T. Johnson
Last year, a director named Patty Jenkins and star Gal Gadot made an important statement for female led superhero films with “Wonder Woman”. This year, director Ryan Coogler and star Chadwick Boseman give us one of the most interesting superhero characters around and they show us that it doesn’t matter what our hero’s ethnicity is while also respecting his history. They did this by simply making a good movie where all the right ingredients come together.
After the events of “Captain America: Civil War”, T’Challa (Boseman) returns home to the advanced civilization of Wakanda. Not only must he say goodbye to his late father, but he must also ascend to the throne as Wakanda’s new king. The film starts by setting up Wakanda itself and gives us a brief history.
Wakanda was established in Africa after five tribes united around a mysterious meteorite that slammed into the continent. The meteor contained a valuable metal known as vibranium and eventually, a man consumed an herb that was affected by the metal and became the first Black Panther. Vibranium also helped Wakanda become the most advanced civilization on Earth, but they hide under camouflage and the rest of the world thinks that they are nothing more than a third world country made of farmers.
Soon after ascending the throne, a mysterious man named Erik Stevens (Michael B. Jordan) seeks out Wakanda in order to challenge T’Challa for the throne. I’ll leave it at that for the sake of sparing anymore spoilers, but I will say that there is a compelling reason for Erik to be after the throne and for the first time since Loki, it was good to see the MCU develop a good villain for the piece. Erik is not only the monster, but he is also tragic in a way that was rather refreshing in the MCU.
Boseman had already proven himself to audiences when he exploded onto the big screen as the Black Panther in “Civil War” and he is just as good here. Unlike almost every other superhero, the story of the Black Panther is a political one as much as it is an action adventure. Instead of rich guys or super soldiers, Black Panther is a man with the entire weight of a nation on his shoulders and he must decide if Wakanda is to remain hidden or if he will step up onto the world stage.
Another element that benefits the already interesting story and Boseman’s performance are the strong supporting women that surround T’Challa. Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o) and Okoye (Danai Gurira) are loyal soldiers for Wakanda but also to their king and they definitely know how to kick butt. Then there is Letitia Wright as Shuri, T’Challa’s younger sister who also acts as Q for her royal brother as she designs all of his tech for him.
Finally, not only does the movie have a great villain, but also a confident actor in the role. Jordan has become one of the best actors of his generation and he brings the proper weight that helps make Erik both tragic and villainous. More so than any other villain (even Loki), you understand why he is on his mission and you are even with him to a certain degree, but in the hands of a lesser actor, that balance never would have worked and the film is better due to Jordan’s presence.
The only minor problem that some might have with this film is that it does take its time to set up the world of Wakanda as this is where we spend 95% of our time. Take note, though, that this is a MCU film and once the action starts, it doesn’t disappoint. In the end, no matter what the movie’s historical legacy will be, “Black Panther” is just a damn good movie with a fantastic script, confident direction, and a stellar cast as the MCU continues its winning streak.