Like everyone else who has ever seen a Marvel film, I’ve been trained to sit through the credits for tidbits of extra content and hints about upcoming films. But in the case of Black Panther, I wish I hadn’t. Not just because the post-credits scenes were banal—although they were. But because they broke the spell that Black Panther had cast over me—and reminded me that, soon enough, this gloriously original film (and character) will get subsumed by the Marvel Industrial Complex.
For now, at least, we have Ryan Coogler’s take on the material, which is really something to behold. Much has been said about this being the first Marvel film to be directed by a black man, star a black superhero, and feature an almost entirely black cast. On representation alone, that’s a wonderful thing. But I didn’t expect the film to be so political, so explicit in its grappling with black oppression, revenge, and righteousness. I also didn’t expect the film to be so female forward—I got a little fissure of excitement every time I laid my eyes on Black Panther’s feisty tech genius sister Shuri (Letitia Wright) or the film’s many she-warriors, led by the fierce as hell Okoye (Danai Gurira).
Beyond the politics, the film is an absolute blast, filled with enough world building, humor, action, and indelible characters to fill up 10 Marvel films. Heck, as Shuri arms her brother with the latest in techno-weaponry, its even got a touch of James Bond.
The action takes places in the futuristic African nation of Wakanda, which exists behind a force field of sorts. To the rest of the world, Wakanda is poor and struggling. But behind that shield, it’s the most technologically advanced country on earth. As fans of Captain America: Civil War already know, Wakanda’s Prince T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) has just lost his father and is next in line to the throne—to be both king of Wakanda and the super-power imbued Black Panther.
A battle, of sorts, for Wakanda’s soul is raging. T’Challa believes that Wakanda should continue as it has up until this point, thriving in secrecy. However, the woman of his dreams, Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o) feels differently. She believes that Wakanda’s advanced technology should be used to help the world. T’Challa worries this might ruin their way of life.
Then there’s a third point of view—and that comes from our villain, Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan). I won’t reveal the truth of Killmonger’s origins, but suffice it to say, he was raised in the projects of Oakland but somehow knows all of Wakanda's secrets. In his mind, the African nation should use its weapons and sophisticated technology to wage war on those who have oppressed black people all over the world. He seeks not a peaceful Wakanda, but a vengeful one.
This is pretty complicated stuff, and I marvel—no pun intended—at a script that can chew on such big ideas while also delivering an eye-popping spectacle. One thing that makes Black Panther seem so thrillingly different from its Marvel brethren is its (mostly) African location—it’s filled with saturated colors, tribal drum beats and dances, ostentatious piercings, and the beautiful contrast of nature and technology.
The cast doesn’t hurt, either. Chadwick Boseman is just an uncommonly charismatic fellow, so much so that he’s already played James Brown, Jackie Robinson, and Thurgood Marshall in his relatively young career. And Michael B. Jordan is, quite simply, one of the best actors of his generation—the De Niro, if you will, to Coogler’s Scorsese. With his punky dreadlocks, ripped physique, and tiny scar marks representing every person he’s killed, his Killmonger also looks cool as hell. (As Tom Hiddleston’s Loki has confirmed, a good villain can really make the Marvel film.)
But like I said, the women were the real surprise of Black Panther. Angela Basset is even on hand—with glorious white dreadlocks—lending all sorts of gravitas to the role of T’Challa’s mother. Wright’s brilliant and mischievous Shuri provides great comic relief. Nyong’o’s spirited Nakia is a true feminist heroine—she loves T’Challa, but would rather serve the world than stand by her man. And there’s a scene where Danai Gurira’s badass Okoye tosses her wig, mid-battle, that is about to become GIF legendary.
I loved spending a couple of hours in the Black Panther’s magical, transformative world. Mark me down as someone who wants Wakanda to stay isolated . . . from the rest of the Marvel universe.