We first met Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) in Captain America: Civil War (2016), and he made us want more. Now we have more and, oh, boy, was it worth the wait. Black Panther is timely, smart and another dazzling entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which never seems to take a misstep.
Now the King of Wakanda, a fictional nation hidden in Africa, T’Challa, aka the Black Panther, reigns in the interest of peace and the protection of his people. He has a strong support system: His mother (Angela Bassett) looks out for him, General Okoye (Danai Gurira) protects him at all costs, and his love interest Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o) believes in him. He’s also friendly with the heads of neighboring tribes, including Okoye’s love interest, W’kabi (Daniel Kaluuya). Their community is built on Vibranium, a precious mineral that also powers the Black Panther suit (and Captain America’s shield). Wakandans harness and protect its power because they believe it’s too dangerous for the outside world.
When you think about it, that’s selfish. Vibranium allows for innovations the rest of the world cannot imagine but would greatly benefit from, and the Wakandans aren’t sharing. In one scene, a character is shot in the back, causing a spinal fracture. In the real world, the person would be dead within hours; in Wakanda, it’s an easy fix back to perfect health the next day. Sure, it’s dangerous in the wrong hands, but think of the lives this technology could save! Or cities it could rebuild, what with all the destruction the Avengers are causing now.
Yet Wakandans insist on keeping it a secret. So when they learn arms dealer Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis) is in South Korea, intending to sell a small piece of stolen Vibranium, T’Challa, Okoye and Nakia try to capture him. What they don’t anticipate is running into a CIA agent Everett Ross (Martin Freeman, aka Dr. Watson on “Sherlock”) who also wants the Vibranium, or clashing with Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan), who has a personal vendetta against T’Challa (and a great villain name).
We expect the action to be top-notch, and it is. Not so much in terms of visual effects—Doctor Strange and Thor: Ragnarok were superior—but very much so in creativity, pacing and energy. The car chase in Korea and the climax in Wakanda stand out, and Boseman and Jordan nicely execute the fistfights. Most important, director and co-writer Ryan Coogler (Creed), making his first action movie, doesn’t fall into the pit of over-editing to the point that it’s hard to follow the action.
The story also has smart social commentary. Some of it’s subtle, some of it definitely is not, but through it all you sense the filmmakers rightfully felt no obligation to cater to a white audience. Just the opposite, in fact, and it’s refreshing to see Marvel Studios go in this direction, given how homogenous its movies have been.
There’s no reference at all to the Avengers, Guardians or anyone else in the Marvel Cinematic Universe until the post-credit scene (not to be confused with the mid-credit scene). That means Black Panther stands entirely on its own, and like its protagonist, it stands tall with every right to be proud.