Oh, how far Marvel has come: 'Black Panther' review

Black Panther

Can every Marvel movie be like this from now on? Please?

Black Panther, the latest film in the Marvel canon and (arguably even more importantly) the next film from Fruitvale Station and Creed director Ryan Coogler, has finally made its way into theaters.

A lot is happening in the MCU right now: Tony Stark and Steve Rogers still have their fallout after their events of Civil War (which, after seeing Black Panther, suddenly doesn’t seem so important anymore), Thor and the Guardians of the Galaxy are running around to other dimensions in space and now there’s Wakanda — the land in which T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) now rules.

To the rest of the world, Wakanda is nothing more than a third-world country in the middle of Africa. There’s nothing special or particularly noteworthy about it, it just exists. The Wakandans know, however, this isn’t true. Buried deep in the mountains of their homeland exists a deep and sacred culture — one that’s far more technologically advanced than anyone on the outside would have believed possible. That’s right, they got spaceships and self-driving cars up in there.

After the events of Civil War, T’Challa is now the person put in charge of protecting the peace between the various nations in Wakanda, harvesting and keeping the secret vibranium metal safe and making sure the outside world doesn’t intrude on their way of life.

To do this, he becomes the Black Panther — a superhero that’s been passed down from generation to generation.

He can’t do it alone, of course. He has help from his younger sister Shuri (Letita Wright); the smartest scientist and inventor in the entire world (yes, even more so than Tony Stark), a former flame and powerful ally named Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o) and Okoye (Danai Gurira) — the leader of his own personal fighting force (think the king’s guard from Game of Thrones).

However, when a new threat emerges in Wakanda who goes by Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) — a man who has some personal ties to T’Challa — T’Challa finds ruling to be a much more demanding task than he anticipated. T’Challa is put to the test as he’s forced to decide what kind of ruler, exactly, he’s going to be.

credit: YouTube

Civil War served as an excellent introduced to the character of T’Challa. In a movie that had so much going on and so many subplots, his storyline of revenge and acceptance was one of the things that stood out the most.

Black Panther, then, is the next logical step in T’Challa’s journey. He’s made peace with the demons that haunted him about his father’s death, now he has to go back to Wakanda and figure out what it means to lead a group of people. It’s his heroes journey we watch him take, as he’s thrown into a position he wasn’t ready for (there’s an incredible dream-like sequence pretty early on that points this out) and he doesn’t fully understand. If Civil War was about T’Challa learning what it meant to take on the responsibilities of being a leader, Black Panther is about him learning what it means to keep his morality while dawning those responsibilities.

And let’s talk about some of the culture and diversity that’s seen in Black Panther, because that’s really one of the main talking points here. Wakanda is an incredibly gorgeous and realized landscape. Coogler and cinematographer Rachel Morrison — the first female cinematographer in the MCU, which is something people need to be talking about more — mine Wakanda for all it’s worth. It’s a land that represents real, African culture, and the fact that we see that in a mainstream Marvel movie is praiseworthy to no end.

Black Panther
credit: YouTube

The same can be said about the representation aspect. We’ve seen black superheroes before, but we’ve never seen them in this way. Black Panther has an almost entirely black cast, a black director, a largely black crew and an incredible soundtrack produced by Kendrick Lamar, SZA and a handful of others.

Meaning, for the first time in forever, African-Americans are being represented in a way they never have been before. Little boys and girls across the entire world can go see this movie and see someone who actually represents themselves up on the screen as a hero. I don't know about you, but I think that's pretty cool.

Coogler also takes this opportunity to provide some actual depth and emotion into the Marvel Cinematic. While Thor: Ragnarok is fun because it embraces the Saturday morning cartoon feel, Black Panther grounds itself in more of a realistic and relevant manner — even when taking place in a mystical land like Wakanda.

Much of this comes from the character of Killmonger — easily the best Marvel villain to date (yes, even more so than Loki). The best villains, typically, are the ones who are rooted in ideologies you might understand. Sure, they might have extreme methods on how they achieve their goals — i.e. killing people — but if they come from a place where you understand, they’ll at least be rooted in sympathy.

Black Panther
credit: YouTube

That’s exactly what Coogler and Jordan accomplish with Killmonger. Apart from the fact that he’s basically taking the same revenge journey T’Challa did in Civil War (which REALLY makes him sympathetic, when you look at it that way), all of his reasoning behind his actions are sound and rooted in truth. Some of the best parts of the movie are when Killmonger and T’Challa simply go back and forth, spitting out what they believe and what the real world implications of those beliefs could mean.

There’s also an incredibly large and talented supporting cast, all of whom deserve recognition. The beauty behind it all is that Coogler manages to find a purpose for everyone in this movie. So often, when talking about superhero movies, it feels like we come away saying ‘this person was great, but I wish they were in the movie more or had more to do.’ That’s not the case in Black Panther. Every character is given their fair amount of screen-time, and they all serve a greater purpose in the story itself.

Letitia Wright might be the biggest standout of all of them — as fans are now clamoring for her to have her own standalone movie after this (which, I promise you, I’d be first in line to see). Her comedic timing is one point (Black Panther, thankfully, has less comedy than previous Marvel movies and the jokes never take away from the serious moments like they did in Guardians 2) and there’s a lot that could potentially be explored with her character further down the line.

Black Panther
credit: YouTube

The relationship between T’Challa and Nakia also felt natural — this isn’t a forced superhero romance like we saw in the first Thor movie, this actually has purpose and reason behind it. Danai Guria also stands out as being a badass who’s dealing with some own issues of morality as well.

Then you also have Forest Whitaker as Zuri; a chief elder of Wakanda, Angela Bassett as Ramonda; T’Challa’s mother, Sterling K. Brown as N’Jobu; a character that I won’t spoil but is excellent in the movie and was part of the reason why I was getting choked up at the end, Daniel Kaluuya (thank GOD he’s being cast in more stuff after his incredible work in Get Out) as W’Kabi; the leader of another tribe in Wakanda. Each of them is great and stand out in their own way — I’d dedicate an entire paragraph to each of them, but this review is already going long.

For the first time in what honestly feels like forever, we have a Marvel movie with real emotions. We don’t sacrifice our hero’s journey in exchange for jokes, we’re allowed to contemplate the choices that each character makes and what it means going forward. We have a Marvel movie with real stakes — I never knew what was going to happen next, and felt like any character could possibly be the next one to die. Most importantly, we have a Marvel movie that’s celebrating culture. Black Panther is a movie that’s going to be in the conversation for a long time. It’s one that’s going to mean a lot to a lot of people, and for good reason. This is a film that actually matters. Don’t sit out on it — see it and become part of the conversation.

Watch the trailer for Black Panther and let us know what you thought of the movie in the comments below!

Oh, how far Marvel has come: 'Black Panther' review
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