The latest Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) film Black Panther is destroying box office records and inspiring people around the world to come to the theatre dressed in African-inspired clothing.
But looking past the hype and excitement is it the best MCU movie ever, the best superhero movie or even the best movie ever (on website Rotten Tomatoes it has beaten out The Wizard of Oz as the best movie of all time)? Here is my non-spoiler review in three easy to chew slices:
#1 The Wonder of Wakanda
Black Panther is the tale of T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman), the eponymous superhero and prince of the fictional and technologically advanced African country of Wakanda, as he returns home following his father’s death (as seen in Captain America: Civil War when the character made his live action debut) to take up the mantle of king and has to battle both external and internal threats.
Firstly, the design and visuals of Wakanda are striking. It is a dazzling, futuristic world but grounded in an African setting. And it is the “Africanness” of it all that resonates the most and it is clear that care was taken to incorporate the look, clothing and accents of actual African tribes and peoples. It is a colourful, delightful setting that you would not mind visiting and just walking around for hours.
#2 The Women of Wakanda
In terms of characters it is all about the ladies. Danai Gurira, who plays the warrior Michonne on the AMC hit series The Walking Dead, is downright magnificent as Okoye, head of the Dora Milaje, the all-female special forces of Wakanda. She is strong, witty and stands out in every scene especially when she is beating up bad guys. The Dora Milaje as a group, the way they move and the way they fight, are just riveting to look at.
The next stand out female character is T’Challa’s inventor sister Shuri, who is played with exuberance, wit and energy by Guyana-born Leticia Wright. Shuri as a character also gets some of the best comedic scenes in the film. Lupita Nyong’o is just luminous as Nakia, an undercover spy and former lover of T’Challa, and veteran actress Angela Bassett is solid as Queen Ramonda though she does not get that much to do.
On the gentlemen Boseman is great as T’Challa and brings a gravitas to his performance. He has some entertaining scenes with Wright though I would have liked to have seen him do more with Bassett. Overall his character arc is good but not as strong as it could be, and he unfortunately gets overshadowed by the other characters.
Speaking of overshadowing, Tobago-born Winston Duke is quite the scene stealer as the antagonist M’Baku. As leader of the fierce mountain tribe, the Jabari, he has animal magnetism and impeccable comedic timing. Michael B Jordan, who has appeared in all three of director Ryan Coogler’s films, does impressive work as main villain Killmonger and he brings a sympathy and a depth to the character which is rare in the superhero genre.
#3 The Power of Black Panther
As a superhero film Black Panther is not the best; I would still place films like Logan, The Dark Knight and Captain America: The Winter Soldier above it. The action scenes are okay but they are hampered by an over-reliance on CGI (a perennial issue with this genre) and some shaky camera work in the opening. The general plot is different but is nothing mind-blowing. But like last year’s Get Out, Black Panther is a movie with a lot of depth and subtext that will roll around in your mind long after the credits have rolled.
There are issues of culture, nationalism, tradition, xenophobia, and nature versus nurture presented subtly and expertly that takes it beyond generic superhero fare. So while not the best superhero film or best film ever (let’s not be ridiculous) it is still a pretty dang good film. And for an industry where a lot of the representations of black people are as sidekicks, gangsters, domestic workers or “ghetto people” a film with beautiful black royalty will be earth shaking, and that is definitely a good thing.
Rating: Black Panther gets 4.25/5 vibranium claws.
This review appeared in an altered form in the Trinidad and Tobago Newsday.
For my ranking of the MCU trilogies you can click here.