By Bryce Cross, E23 Reporter

Unlike any Marvel movie before it, ”Black Panther” easily stands out. It boldly goes in new directions with the superhero formula, revealing a rich, Afrofuturistic world and tackling real-world ideologies alongside its action, relatable cast and compelling antagonist. Not only does it stand out as a tale about the duty of a hero, legend and king — it stands out as a true game changer as well.

If you expect the film to be more serious because it addresses real issues and follows the difficulties of ruling a nation, you’d be both right and wrong. Director Ryan Coogler balances the line between solemn and exhilarating extremely well. For every introspective reflection on ideology and principle, there are super fun laugh-out-loud moments and mouth-dropping action scenes. Coogler handles these elements so well that it’s never jarring or inconsistent in tone. He creates an impressive film about a superhero living in a beautifully fantastical world while keeping the adventure very emotionally driven and relatable.

“Black Panther” picks up after the death of King T’Chaka during the attack on the United Nations in 2016’s “Captain America: Civil War.” T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) is made the new king of the African nation of Wakanda, which, in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, is Earth’s most powerful and technologically advanced country but is hidden to the rest of the world. His journey as a hero is an unusual surprise. Rather than striving to change the world, he’s driven to maintain the status quo on his home turf. Now wielding a massive amount of power as king, he’s torn between his responsibility of maintaining the traditions and isolation of his country or his moral code to help others outside of it.

T'Challa in the Black Panther suit without his mask

Chadwick Boseman plays T’Challa/Black Panther (Source: Flickr).

He’s aware the outside world is struggling with poverty, inequality and war, which are problems that Wakanda could easily fix. Unfortunately, doing so would expose Wakanda’s greatest secrets, technology and weapons. T’Challa is forced to consider if his duty to the world – to people who sold his ancestors into slavery and pillaged Africa itself – outweighs his duty to his people.

Visually, every bit of “Black Panther” is gorgeous. Coogler’s Afrofuturistic Wakanda is mind-blowingly unique and diverse, while also working as an excellent example of worldbuilding. Visually, it’s gorgeous, mixing vibrant African wear and ancient traditions with diverse geographic regions, tribes and stunning futuristic technology. Every scene and costume has a certain aesthetic and is definite eye candy for the audience.

The pacing of the film is a little off. It doesn’t take off until T’Challa set off on a mission in South Korea. However, it makes up for most of its slow start with adrenaline-charged action scenes. The South Korea scene, a club shootout ending in a spear-filled, gravity-defying car chase, is one of Marvel’s best. From then on, each fight scene that follows is bound to bring several gasps from audiences.

One of the other big highlights of the film was the performances from its star-studded cast. Boseman gives us more of the stoic, yet morally conflicted T’Challa seen in “Civil War”, while the leading ladies bring the humor, joy and fun. T’Challa’s inventive, cheerful sister Shuri (Letitia Wright) is a delight, never missing a moment to throw out a relatable quip or roast her brother. Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o), a spy, supporter and former girlfriend of T’Challa’s, is kind and steadfast in her morals and goals, encouraging T’Challa to show compassion to those outside of Wakanda. You might also know Danai Gurira as Michonne from “The Walking Dead.” Here, she plays Okoye, the captain of T’Challa’s royal guards, with such a coolness and snarkiness in comparison to Boseman’s serious performance that it made me want an Okoye solo movie. Other characters have smaller, but notable supporting roles like W’Kabi (“Get Out”’s Daniel Kaluuya), CIA Agent Everett Ross (Martin Freeman, returning from “Civil War”) and Queen Ramonda (Angela Bassett).

The best performance, and quite possibly the film’s strongest quality, came from Michael B. Jordan, playing Erik “Killmonger” Stevens, an antagonist so captivating it’s hard to take your eyes off him. Killmonger is to T’Challa as Malcolm X was to Martin Luther King Jr., taking more violent, extremist approaches to enact change. Killmonger is less focused on maintaining Wakandan traditions and more driven to use Wakanda’s strength and advanced resources to help the world around it.

It’s around here you should be realizing that Killmonger is less of a villain and more of a man obsessed with exacting justice – which is usually the goal of a hero. It’s because of this that “Black Panther”’s Kilmonger works so well. He’s a mirror image of our hero. A villain many can sympathize with as he attempts to improve black lives and tackle real-life issues – inequality, social injustice and the injustice of colonialism — through violent retaliation. Even if you think his methods are wrong, it’s not hard to get why he resents T’Challa and Wakanda for remaining isolated when they can right the world’s wrongdoings. Killmonger not only succeeds in making the film more politically driven and relevant, but in being one of the MCU’s best villains, alongside Zemo, Vulture and Loki.

One drawback of the film is the amount of screen time given to the film’s other villain, Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis) who returned from 2015’s “Avengers: Age of Ultron.” As a wild criminal who had infiltrated Wakanda, stolen its precious Vibranium (the strongest metal in the MCU) and lived to tell about it, there was a lot more that could’ve been done with him, but he was shuffled off-screen after the first act.

Overall, “Black Panther” stands tall as an amazing action-adventure film largely thanks to its amazing visuals, memorable and relatable cast of characters and exceptional villain. The film’s pacing drags slightly at the start, but the worldbuilding and emotional weight of its themes and the characters on-screen keep the film going strong as one of Marvel’s best.

Wakanda Forever!

Rating: 9/10

Tags: , , , , ,