By Mark Saldana

Rating: 4 (Out of 4 Stars)

Created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in 1966, Black Panther was Marvel’s very first African superhero, only to be followed years later by The Falcon and Luke Cage.  The Marvel Cinematic Universe introduced the character in 2016’s Captain America: Civil War, where he gave audiences only a small taste of his powers, skills, and resources.  Black Panther has own standalone movie now and gets to really show movie audiences what he can bring to the MCU.  Director Ryan Coogler, who made a wonderful contribution to the Rocky franchise with Creed, gets to show what he has to offer to superhero cinema.  The talented filmmaker succeeds in creating what I feel is the best superhero movie of the Marvel franchise and a film that allows black actors to shine brightly.

Following the events of Civil War, hero/warrior Black Panther, aka T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman), returns to his home in Wakanda to face the next step in a life of royalty.  After his father T’Chaka was murdered by Zemo, T’Challa must now assume the role and responsibilities of the Wakandan throne.  Shortly after his coronation, the new king and his government receive an alert that a priceless Wakandan artifact was stolen from a museum by enemy Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis) and his new partner Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan).  T’Challa and his warriors, including his ex-love Nakia (Lupita Nyongo) and his general Okoye (Danai Gurira), pursue the criminals to bring them to justice, but there is more to Klaue and Killmonger’s plans. Their plot not only threatens Wakanda’s royal family and their way of life, but could have a huge violent impact on the world at large.

Written and directed by Ryan Coogler, who co-wrote with Joe Robert Cole, Black Panther’s movie is truly a remarkable achievement for both superhero movies and black cinema.  Coogler not only delivers a fun and thrilling superhero adventure, but also gives fans a culturally rich and socially relevant movie that offers an intelligent commentary on politics, colonialism, and foreign policy.  It is a beautiful amalgamation of African culture and science fiction fantasy.  As fun as the movie is, Coogler manages to balance the social gravity of his messages with the thrilling, fantastical elements.  I would have to say that not since Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight has there been a more accomplished or brilliant superhero film in theaters.

Coogler and his crew do deliver the action goods in addition to the more dramatic and socially conscientious beats and give audiences a vibrant and colorful vision of the amazing fictional nation of Wakanda.  Major kudos must be given to the designers and CGI artists who helped bring this grand, majestic, and innovative vision to life, and also to Rachel Morrison, the director of photography who captures some absolutely gorgeous shots.  Enriching the MCU with African culture, particularly in the music department, high praise must be given to Ludwig Göransson, who composed the phenomenal score, and Kendrick Lamar who curated the soundtrack and contributed some songs to it.

Coogler has also assembled a fantastic cast in addition to Chadwick Boseman, who does an outstanding job reprising the role of T’Challa and brings a real and genuine humanity to the character.  The wonderful Lupita Nyongo offers a superb turn as T’Challa’s love interest and operative of the Dora Milaje, the all-female special forces of Wakanda who serve as T’Challa’s guards.  Michael B. Jordan makes his Marvel Studios debut as villain Erik “Killmonger” Stevens, a black-ops soldier seeking to overthrow the Wakandan government.  Jordan does an exceptional job as the aggressive and driven warrior who seeks power, but also wants to share that power with the oppressed in the worst possible ways.  The incomparable Andy Serkis returns to the MCU as Ulysses Klaue, a villainous character briefly introduced in Avengers: Age of Ultron.  Both actors bring much intensity and zeal to their characters, but also seem to be having a great time doing it.  The film also features great work by Danai Gurira, Martin Freeman, Letitia Wright, Winston Duke, Sterling K. Brown, Angela Bassett, and Forrest Whittaker.

And because this amazing cast and the work of Ryan Coogler and his crew have created a truly remarkable and extraordinary movie in Black Panther, it has risen to the top as my favorite movie of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (so far).  Going into this film, I had mostly positive expectations, as Coogler brought new and exciting life to the Rocky franchise.  I only expected him to do the same for the MCU, but his film has exceeded these expectations.  I feel it is one of the top comic book superhero movies of all time.  It is about time that black people of all ethnic backgrounds have been given a superhero who offers some truly positive messages about their cultures and how he can be a catalyst for much-needed change.  It is an example from which everyone can learn.


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