There’s a moment in Black Panther when a group of warriors lift their shields. The shields are made of cloth and are inspired by the traditional painted robes of the Ndebele people of South Africa. The warriors hoist their fabrics in unison, and the combined shields conjure a shimmering forcefield around them. It’s fucking awesome. The scene lasts only a few seconds, but should give you a pretty good idea of the joys that Black Panther has in store.
The story is ninety-nine percent standalone, with a brief flashback to the events of Captain America: Civil War, when our protagonist, Prince T’Challa’s father was murdered. Prince T’Challa AKA the Black Panther, is next in line to assume the throne of Wakanda, a fictional African country that is secretly the most advanced nation in the world. This advancement comes courtesy of a meteor made of vibranium that fell to earth many, many years ago. Fearing that the outside world would attempt to steal the ultra-rare magic metal, the kings and queens of Wakanda have for centuries kept the nation completely isolated. Their futuristic society is hidden beneath a hologram of an immense rainforest, and everything outside it appears to be a third world country. The idea of isolationism vs internationalism becomes the central conflict of the film, and how it all plays out will not be spoiled here.
The entire cast is phenomenal. Chadwick Boseman plays the conflicted king of Wakanda with Shakespearean intensity, and Letitia Wright gives a hilarious performance has his tech genius sister. Danai Gurira plays Okoye, the leader of the Dora Milaje, the all-female special forces of Wakanda (seriously just go see this freaking movie) and she kicks an unbelievable amount of ass. Andy Serkis gives a scenery chewing performance that somehow actually works, and Lupita Nyong’o is great as always as Nakia, an undercover spy. My personal favourite performance, however, goes to Michael B. Jordan as the villain, Erik. He is hands-down Marvel’s best villain to date, and Jordan completely steals every scene he’s in. His plan, once revealed, comes from a deep desire to make the world a better place, and should lead to some important real-world conversations.
My only real quibble is with the action sequences, which aren’t nearly as thrilling as I’d hoped from director Ryan Coogler, who staged Creed’s boxing scenes with perfection. Like most Marvel films, it’s hard to follow what’s going on once the action starts, and the combat often looks a little too CGI’d. That said, there are moments in the action scenes that stand out, and most are staged with enough inventiveness to keep them interesting.
Marvel should be applauded for greenlighting Black Panther and for giving Coogler the creative freedom he needed to bring his vision to life. This is top tier Marvel, up there with Iron Man and Guardians of the Galaxy, and really demands to be seen on the big screen, and with an audience. Go see it!