REVIEW: “Black Panther”

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Jonathan Montague, Contributing Writer

One of the great things about the superhero movie boom is new franchises are starting to be made about more diverse and lesser known heroes. Ten years ago, no one would have thought that movies with a talking raccoon, a man who could talk to ants or even female superheroes would be box-office powerhouses, and now, we are getting an African superhero in his first solo outing to kick off 2018. Does “Black Panther” live up to the hype? In a word: yes.

Picking up after “Captain America: Civil War,” we follow T’Challa, the latest to hold the title of Wakanda’s protector, Black Panther. As he reluctantly takes the throne as Wakanda’s new king, T’Challa is conflicted about how to lead his country and he soon finds his new rule threatened by Erik (a.k.a. Killmonger) as the sins of past kings come back to haunt him. T’Challa and his allies, including C.I.A. liaison Everett Ross, must confront the past in order to stop Killmonger, who will stop at nothing to use plunge the world into chaos.

On the surface, this plot is nothing significantly spectacular but the strength is in the execution. The dialogue in this movie is very natural and there is not a single bit of humor that feels obviously like a joke being told. There is one event involving a particular character that I wish had been omitted but it does not sacrifice the overall story. Combined with very good pacing, the writing is a breath of fresh air unto the Marvel formula.

This film’s story, however, is more impressive; in fact, it might be the most impressive of any Marvel Character Universe [MCU] origin story. Not only is T’Challa torn between his duty to Wakanda and a world that Wakanda could help, but this movie probably has the most developed villain since Loki. While being another of Marvel’s “evil counterpart” villains, Erik has a personality and background that sets him apart from other MCU villains. They devote a lot more time to him than other villains, assisted by the fact that T’Challa already had his own arc in Civil War and did not need as much attention as other characters. As far as supporting cast, there is a colorful collection of charming characters, such as T’Challa’s genius younger sister Zuri and warrior love interest Nakia.

There are also strong themes of loyalty and betrayal as well as family, duty and the emotional weight of being a king. Characters make decisions that they cannot truly justify and the fallout is widespread and toxic. Innocent lives are changed forever and monsters are created because of the actions of a powerful person. Erik is the instigator of these events and the perfect threat to T’Challa, both personally and as the Black Panther.

The characters are great, but that is in part due to great performances from the cast. Chadwick Boseman returns and gives many more dimensions to T’Challa. My favorite thing about it definitely his voice, which manages to be different than you might expect but still exudes strength. I will admit to being skeptical about Michael B. Jordan playing a villain, but his usual swagger lends itself well to Erik while allowing him to show his range. Letitia Wright provides excellent comic relief as Shuri and even holds her own alongside established actress Lupita N’yongo.

This is easily one of the most beautiful and unique-looking Marvel films ever. The culture of Wakanda takes inspiration from many African cultures and makes sure every tribe stands out. The costumes are all well designed, including Black Panther’s new costume. The CGI is mostly excellent, although it can seem slightly rubbery in some places. The score is well composed and incorporates African instruments to help it stand out, while the songs produced by rap artist Kendrick Lamar are used sparingly, allowing you to enjoy them when they do show up.

“Black Panther” is going to be held to a standard that I feel it will never live up to, but I do believe that it tries its best and achieves success in practically every area, even in places Marvel usually receives criticism. Strong writing, acting, and production design provide one of the best Marvel films to date. I am shivering with anticipation for when we return to Wakanda in “Avengers: Infinity War.” I implore you all to go to the theater and experience this movie the right way.