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Black Panther is a superhero movie that does not feel like a superhero movie. The production design is tremendous, the acting is really good and it has been very well-directed and reasonably well-paced. The story still has some rough edges, but it is the first Marvel film I have seen that feels like it has real stakes. Black Panther is, without a doubt, the best Marvel film I have seen so far and the best superhero movie I have seen in a long time.
The Black Panther comic book was created in 1966 by Jewish writer/editor Stan Lee and Jewish writer/artist Jack Kirby. It was the first mainstream American comic to feature a black superhero.
That hero is T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) who, as the film opens, is being primed to become king of the isolated nation of Wakanda after the death of his father. Wakanda is thought to be a small farming country and its true nature is only known to those who live there. The exception is arms dealer Klaue (Andy Serkis). T’Challa goes on a mission to capture Klaue in a lengthy subplot that seems unnecessary, but does setup the plot. There are too many twists and turns for me to discuss the plot without getting into spoiler territory, but it involves a vengeful character played by Michael B. Jordan, the best thing in a very good film.
This is by far the biggest and most ambitious film Ryan Coogler has directed so far. He went from an intimate true-life drama (2013’s Fruitvale Station) to a character based sports movie (2015’s Creed) to a massive action film with complex sets and a very large cast. With Black Panther he proves himself extremely capable of directing a film of this size without sacrificing character or emotion. He also co-wrote the screenplay with Joe Robert Cole and they keep the story fairly self-contained. Not only does that make it easier to follow, it also makes T’Challa’s story seem more important. It comes off as a matter of life and death for the people of Wakanda instead of merely a small piece of the much larger Marvel puzzle.
They also assembled a very strong cast and allow them to play their parts. Chadwick Boseman brings power and pride to a man who wants to honor his father and protect his people. Michael B. Jordan brings layers to his villain. His motivations are surprisingly relatable. Martin Freeman reprises his role as CIA agent Ross, while Forest Whitaker and Daniel Kaluuya play Wakandans.
The woman are given an important part to play in this story as well. Lupita Nyong’O as T’Challa’s ex, Nakia, Danai Gurira as his guard, Okoye, and Letitia Wright as his brilliant sister Shuri are all smart, strong and heroic. Okoye is the toughest character in the movie, Nakia the most noble and Shuri the smartest. She is also the funniest and gets some of the best lines. They are joined by Angela Bassett as T’Challa’s mother, Ramonda, who gives her usual solid performance in an underwritten role.
Black Panther may be a Marvel comic book superhero movie, but it feels like something new. The villain is really intriguing, buoyed by a characteristically great performance from Michael B. Jordan. And the stakes are no less than the fate of Wakanda, which makes the action seem more important. My big complaint with superhero movies in general is that they all seem basically the same. Black Panther feels like the answer to that. It is a superhero movie for people who do not think they like superhero movies.
By Ben Pivoz
Ben’s Movie Reviews
Do you like superhero movies? Check out Ben’s Justice League review.
Read Ben’s last movie review on The 15:17 to Paris.