By Dan Mansfield
In summary, Black Panther is fantastic, one of the best Marvel Cinematic Universe films to date. However, as a standalone film, it still works as a great piece of popcorn entertainment.
After a quick summary of how Black Panther’s powers work (and how Wakanda sustains itself with vibranium, a new mineral which crashed into the country on a meteor), the new king of Wakanda, T’Challa, returns home to replace his now dead father as ruler. From this moment, Black Panther already excels. The production design and visuals are astounding. Another reviewer had remarked that Wakanda is Blade Runner if it had taken place in Africa instead of LA. While the stories share no similarity, the breathtaking setup of the small country is no less appealing to the eyes with its city buildings and skyscrapers reaching into the African sunrises and sunsets, waterfalls cascading over rocks to create pools of clear water that coat the land, as well as its underground vibranium mines with its cool blue crystals, which allow the futuristic trains to pass though at high speed.
We then head to South Korea for a detour as T’Challa tried to pursue Klaue, who is working with Erik Killmonger, another native Wakandan, to smuggle vibranium out of the country. The action really pops here, as T’Challa chases Klaue who is running, escaping by car (including a number of cool shots of T’Challa running across the side of a building, and riding a car to get to the villain). Killmonger then returns to Wakanda to usurp the throne from T’Challa.
T’Challa rides atop a car in the South Korean half of the film.
And it is after this point that Killmonger is fully established as a villain in his own light, complete with an inventive shot of him walking into the throne room where the camera rotates to reflect the new absurdity of the story’s developments. Some critics have panned Killmonger’s character of simply being an evil version of the Black Panther, a notion I reject. The film’s dialogue up to this point makes him his own character with his own motivations, separate from T’Challa. Killmonger wishes to use vibranium to empower Wakanda and others across the world so it can rule the world with its own powerful empire in the vein of the British, while the current king wishes to instead share the mineral with the world peacefully to help others.
The characters are all brought to life thanks to the stellar performances of Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, and Letitia Wright as T’Challa, Killmonger, and Shuri, respectively, all of whom capture the emotion beautifully. They laugh, cry, and ponder perfectly on cue as if it were really happening.
All of this is assisted by the film’s curated soundtrack, which was put together by Kendrick Lamar. The beats he chose, and the rhythm he created gave a flow to the film unique to Panther. If the anime Cowboy Bebop is space jazz thanks to its soundtrack, then Panther is superhero hip-hop.
After a final climactic battle, which is a spectacle all on its own, the film winds down, T’Challa and Killmonger finally settle their score. It all comes together gracefully as Ryan Coogler, the film’s (astonishingly young) 31 year old director, gives the audience what it deserves, as well as two post credit scenes to help the film tie into the MCU again for the next films. Black Panther will return in Marvel’s The Avengers: Infinity War.
Until then, the film is definitely worth seeing more than once, with new things to appreciate in each viewing.