Black Panther Pounces on the MCU
Following the events of Civil War, T’Challa returns to Wakanda and assumes the mantle of Black Panther. On the other side of the world, Ulysses Klaue is selling Wakandan artifacts on the black market. With the help of his royal court, T’Challa must make the right decisions to lead his people and manage the global perception of Wakanda.
Black Panther is Marvel’s 18th film. It is the last film before Avengers: Infinity War. However, it is curiously devoid of any real connection to the MCU. It’s there, of course, but the film is actively disinterested in focusing on those elements. As such, Black Panther is a singular piece of the MCU, and stands proud and tall.
Ryan Coogler picks up the action right where Civil War left off. And the resulting film is a satisfying mix of Star Wars, The Godfather, and Shakespeare with a pinch of James Bond thrown in for good measure. It’s Marvel’s most ambitious film and has a lot on its mind. Coogler is an excellent director (see Creed if you haven’t), and crafts an epic African tale concerned more with quiet character beats than bombastic action sequences.
However, this does not always work in Black Panther‘s favor. Wakanda is a vibrant, bustling country, but we don’t get to see a lot of its day-to-day life. In the midst of the royal drama, Wakanda and its way of life are threatened by a group of criminals attempting to expose the country’s vast reserve of vibranium. So, T’Challa and co. travel to South Korea in an attempt to thwart Klaue’s plan. The resulting action sequences are sloppy at best. And the CGI is some of the worst in the MCU.
Furthermore, as Michael B. Jordan’s Erik Killmonger becomes the main villain of the film, there is a lack of momentum. In the midst of Black Panther‘s inner struggles, there’s a feeling of “all that for this?” Wakanda is a wonderful world populated by stellar characters, but it lacks a sense of urgency.
That is not to say the actors fail the material by any stretch of the imagination. Every single performance in Black Panther is outstanding. Chadwick Boseman plays T’Challa with a conflicted nobility. His connection to his sister, Shuri, is bolstered by a star-making turn from Letitia Wright. She plays Q to his Bond and supplies him with the MCU’s coolest gadgets. However, the real standout is Michael B. Jordan. Jordan is one of the best actors of his generation, and his performance in Black Panther is one of the all-time great villain performances. His motivations are clear, understandable, and inarguable. But his methods are crass and at odds with a world striving to be better.
Finally, the themes of Black Panther stick to the ribs like no other Marvel film. Ryan Coogler’s biggest strength as a filmmaker is conveying to the audience exactly what he wants to when he wants to. Here, the newly-appointed leader of Wakanda struggles with what it means to lead. He knows demagoguery is not the way to go. However, he does not want to appear weak in the eyes of the world. The film asks the question “What is the line between tenacity and generosity, and how do we get there?” It’s a complex issue, and one that I hope presents itself throughout the Black Panther franchise.
There is so much more I could say about the film. Heck, I didn’t even get to touch on the wonderful Afrofuturism at play in the movie. Or how the rest of the cast is outstanding, including the many women T’Challa entrusts his life to. And the score is the most memorable of the MCU. The production design sings, and the costumes are Oscar-worthy. Yes, there are some action, structural, pacing, and editing issues. But Black Panther works its way around them and sends the audience home with something to think about. It’s a film that demands a lot from its audience, and if you’re willing to meet it a little more than halfway, it is one of the most rewarding entries in the MCU to date.
Images courtesy of Marvel Studios and IMDb.