This review is SPOILER-FREE
Arguably the most important comic book film ever made, Black Panther succeeds in not only acting as a positive representation of ethnic minorities and women but also as a genuinely great film. As the first comic book film in history with a mostly all-black cast, director Ryan Coogler (Fruitvale Station, Creed) has created arguably the best film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU).
The film picks up after the events of Captain America: Civil War, as T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman), soon to be King of Wakanda, returns home only to find himself facing an enemy seeking to claim the throne for himself.
Boasting a stellar cast such as Lupita Nyong’o, Angela Bassett, Martin Freeman and frequent Coogler collaborator, Michael B. Jordan. The entire cast delivers strong performances, with the standout easily being Micahel B. Jordan as the villain Erik Killmonger. The MCU has often been criticised for having a ‘villain problem’, and rightly so, with the majority of the MCU’s villains being largely forgettable apart from Loki (Tom Hiddleston). The reason Loki is so beloved by fans is due to Hiddleston’s charismatic performance as the God of Mischief. However, the reason that Killmonger succeeds as a villain is that the audience understands his motivations, which are largely a result of racial prejudice that he has suffered and witnessed whilst growing up in the United States (US). Coogler makes a smart choice not to portray any of the prejudice he suffered, despite showing him as a youngster in flashbacks, as it simply does not need to be shown. Racial prejudice, particularly in the US, is such a well-known and documented issue that everyone watching understands and in some cases, can relate to what Killmonger has been through.
Another surprise standout is Danai Gurira as Okoye. Known to most audiences as Michonne, the katana-wielding survivor on AMC’s The Walking Dead, she manages to repeat the strong female persona, however, unlike Michonne, Okoye is strong not because of previous traumas but simply because she is strong. This is a perfect example of how female characters should be represented on the big screen more often.
The film is fantastically paced, filled with enthralling and admittedly over-the-top action sequences from start to finish. However, it has slower moments, that are often just as enthralling as the action scenes, with a standout scene involving Killmonger having a heart to heart with a loved one. Coogler elected for the film to have a similar tone to Civil War, which sets it apart from the majority of the other MCU films, often criticised for their slapstick style comedy (Thor: Ragnarok anyone). A final positive is the soundtrack by Kendrick Lamar. It just suits the film and the vision of Ryan Coogler so perfectly.
All this being said, the film is not flawless. It, like most comic book films nowadays, suffers from a CGI overloaded third act. The film, like most MCU films, is heavily reliant on green screen during filming, however, its third act relies on it too much as everything on the screen, created by CGI just doesn’t look believable. Watching it feels like watching a cutscene of a video game from 2010.
Additionally, while the majority of the characters in the film are well-developed and interesting, there are two notable exceptions: W’Kabi and Zuri. W’Kabi, played by the recently Oscar-nominated Daniel Kaluuya, is so poorly developed that his choices throughout the film will leave audiences baffled. Zuri, on the other hand, is just totally underused. Forest Whitaker does his best with the small amount of screen time that Zuri gets but it is not enough to save Zuri from being another forgettable supporting character in the MCU.
Black Panther is an outstanding comic book film and will go down in history as one of the most significant films ever made in terms of diversity. Ryan Coogler continues to prove that he is a rising star and at the young age of 31, could become one of the next ‘masters’ alongside the likes of Scorsese and Spielberg. The cast, led by the magnificent Chadwick Boseman, is one of the best among the MCU and the characters among the most interesting. I simply cannot wait to return to Wakanda!