Marvel steps even further away from the typical superhero movie with Black Panther by creating a story of mythic proportions.
T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) returns to his home, Wakanda, and takes the throne following the death of his father as depicted in Captain America: Civil War. T’Challa’s reign is immediately challenged after a Wakandan artifact is stolen by Ulysses Klaw (Andy Serkis, returning to the role after Avengers: Age of Ultron), an old enemy of Wakanda.
More so than most other Marvel movies, Black Panther is able to stand on its own strength, without relying on the connection to the greater Marvel Cinematic Universe. There are enough connections to the MCU to satisfy fans, but the film is able to appeal to an even greater audience.
Black Panther harkens back to the freshness of MCU’s Phase One films (Iron Man through The Avengers), but combined with the originality and strength of its fellow Phase Three films (starting with Captain America: Civil War). Like some of the more recent MCU movies, Black Panther has stepped away from being a classic superhero film, and feels more like a fantasy epic.
This is not a movie about a hero coming into his powers or learning what it means to be a hero. T’Challa is already perfectly competent as the Black Panther; now he has to learn how to be King of Wakanda. This creates a completely different arc that is rooted more is classic mythology than in comic books.
Black Panther’s visuals are extraordinary in every regard. Every single frame is so rich, from the beautiful and vibrant costume designs, to the production design that makes Wakanda feel simultaneously real and magical, captured by outstanding cinematography (from the Oscar-nominated cinematographer of Mudbound, Rachel Morrison). Every single frame of Black Panther pulsates with life and beauty, helping to bring the movie to the next level.
As mentioned, Black Panther is more similar to the fantasy epic, which allows the film to move at a pace different from that of other superhero movies. The film never feels rushed, and every scene is able to have its own weight.
A couple of the battle scenes might linger just a bit too long, but this is not too much of a detraction as every battle scene feels unique, as the film is able to explore multiple forms of combat that are rarely seen in superhero films. Black Panther does have a more serious tone than most other Marvel movies, but it is still filled with levity.
Boseman does an excellent job reprising his role from Captain America: Civil War, effectively carrying the film with dignity and strength. However, it is the supporting cast that stands out, in particular, the women.
T’Challa is surrounded by women, all powerful in their own right. Lupita Nyong’o as Nakia and Danai Gurira as Okoye have the most time to shine. Both fight alongside T’Challa, and perfectly balance out both his physical and personal weaknesses.
However, they also serve as foils to each other; and one particular scene between the two is likely the most powerful in the film. Letitia Wright brings a fantastic energy to the film as T’Challa’s sister and Wakanda’s head of technology, Shuri, adding humor to every scene she is in.
Michael B. Jordan portrays the villain, Killmonger, who largely grounds the film. Killmonger is likely Marvel’s most sympathetic villain, despite being utterly brutal. He is a truly complex character in his own right, who challenges T’Challa’s values.
Black Panther has the added challenge of needing to create a new world within the Marvel Universe. It not only does a stellar job in the creation of Wakanda, but also in creating rich histories for each of the characters. One of the strongest examples is the exposition, which effectively gives the background of Wakanda in an entertaining way.
One way this falters is in creating romantic relationships between characters. For example, one of the paramount moments of the film relies on a romantic relationship between two of the supporting characters. However, the only evidence of this relationship is the one instance where they reference it, but it is never actually demonstrated. This scene could have had a huge emotional impact, but instead falls flat because there is little to support it.
Black Panther is a standout in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It crafts a beautiful story with well-developed characters. Despite taking place in a fantastical world, it feels deeply rooted in reality, making the film even more impactful.