Black Panther (2018)

I’m not sure what sample size we need for director Ryan Coogler before we can declare him one of the top filmmakers working today, but if the number is three then he’s three for three in turning in not just good movies but great ones. He’s worked with three different budget sizes—small, medium, and now large—and has delivered each time. Now with Black Panther he’s delivered not just a great franchise movie but a great Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) movie—one that stands above most of the series that is currently at the top of blockbuster filmmaking.

Following directly after the events of Captain America: Civil War, Black Panther follows the new king of Wakanda, T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman), taking over for his recently deceased father. He also ingests an herb that gives him enhanced strength and, when need be, wears the Black Panther costume. “When need be” is important here, because Black Panther doesn’t have him wear it all of the time—or even most of the time.

The movie is more about establishing Wakanda as a civilization than anything else. We learn that Wakanda is an isolated nation within Africa which sits atop a mountain of vibranium and has used that resource in order to create technology far more advanced than anyone else on the planet. In order to protect its resources, technology, and weapons, it’s hidden itself away under a cloak of jungle. With T’Challa, there are thoughts of perhaps beginning to establish more of a presence in the global community—but all of that gets pushed to the side with the emergence of Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan), who wants to take the throne for himself for reasons that the movie will eventually get to.

Yes, you did read that name correctly. Somehow, it doesn’t seem silly within the context of the movie, even though it might seem like it on paper. That feels almost like a miracle on its own, but it’s mostly a testament to how immersed we are in what’s happening and how well-defined everything we see is. It works in this world, and that’s all that matters. Killmonger winds up being a very effective villain.

Black Panther is another fantastic movie from director Ryan Coogler—one that sits near the top of the MCU.

You might think that the name doesn’t even sound particularly weird in the MCU, and it probably doesn’t—but Black Panther, in many respects, feels divorced from the rest of the franchise and winds up building its own partial universe. Wakanda is a fascinating place filled with both futuristic technology and African traditions, and navigating it, learning about all of its characters—and there are many—and simply spending time within it is a joy. Black Panther does such a great job of building this world for us that we don’t want to leave it. And that’s without getting into the extended MCU stuff, which I’m sure will play a larger role in future films.

It also feels … more like a drama than most of the other MCU movies, if that makes sense. There are funny moments, sure, and there’s more than enough action, but because of the directions the plot takes and how well the characters are built, it all feels like it matters more. There’s more emotion and it takes on a more serious tone. It’s not dark and gritty, but the approach is less “fun comic book” and more “this is important; treat it as such.”

Some of the action is fantastic. There’s a scene in a casino and a car chase that are among the MCU’s best. And there’s a large-scale battle near the end that’s pretty great. One of the one-on-one fights is a bit of a letdown; the effects aren’t as polished as they should have been and it takes place in a dark area, not allowing us to see it as well as we’d like. If there’s one moderate complaint, it’s this—which unfortunately serves as its climax, and is the last action we get, making it a bigger part of our lasting impression.

It’s a relatively minor complaint in the grand scheme of things, anyway. Black Panther is another fantastic movie from director Ryan Coogler—one that sits near the top of the MCU, and one that feels like it only somewhat belongs, which is part of the point, I think. It does a wonderful job of building its world and its characters, its acting is fantastic, it’s got interesting themes, most of the action is great, and it’s got a more hefty, serious tone than most of these things.

Conclusion: It’s easy to overpraise movies in the MCU but Black Panther is great.

Recommendation: If you like these movies, you need to see Black Panther ASAP.

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