Black Panther (2018)
It’s bizarre to think that it took ten years for the MCU to release its first film with a black lead. There have probably been arguments declaring that Black Panther wasn’t a big enough character to introduce into Phases 1 or 2, but it’s a rather invalid one; these are all fictional characters and you can easily make Iron Man African American. It was an unnecessary wait, however, it was definitely worth it.
Following the death of his father in Civil War, T’Challa (Boseman), returns home to Wakanda to take the throne. However, shortly after his return, a threat appears in the form of Erik “Killmonger” Stevens (Jordan), who believes he is the rightful king of the country.
I had decided that I merely liked Black Panther upon its release in February 2018, and that it was a decent fit with the rest of MCU. Upon second viewing (once again at the cinema), my mind changed completely. This is not your average superhero movie, but something far more, a cultural phenomenon in a world where those don’t happen often. It is superbly acted and beautifully written, the only downfall being its third-act action sequence, which turns into a bit of a CGI cluster bomb.
It starts rather averagely for a new superhero movie; exposition on the African country is relayed in the form of a child’s story, however, it quickly turns into something else, as we are transported to 1992’s Oakland to briefly meet N’Jobu (the always magnificent Sterling K. Brown). To further explain why would be to spoil the fun, but even in California, it comfortably sets up the world we are about to explore.
The film may also have one of the best casts the MCU has ever witnessed. Boseman is still wonderful as T’Challa/Black Panther, but it’s the movie’s supporting cast that shines. Winston Duke, as T’Challa’s rival M’Baku is a fearsome screen presence, whilst Letitia Wright as the new king’s sister, Shuri has great comedic timing. I couldn’t fault any of the cast if I tried.
They are all overpowered, however, by the insanely talented Michael B. Jordan, as villain Killmonger. The MCU has never had a better villain than this. It is almost unfair to Boseman, as this is his own movie, but Jordan gives the most electrifying and heart breaking performance this side of Infinity War.
It is perhaps not just Jordan that makes this such a memorable villain, but the fact that, if his philosophy were just an inch in the other direction, he would be the hero of the story. Killmonger wishes to use Wakanda’s far superior technology to help with the oppression of black people all over the world, and in a certain sense, he is entirely correct; it’s just his methods that aren’t. It’s the pitch perfect writing (by Coogler and Joe Robert Cole) that makes the film so poignant and so relative in today’s world.
Wakanda, also, is now a fully realised world, and what a beautiful world it is. Filled with vibrancy and a thriving population, its cinematography and production design (for which it won an Academy Award) are stunning, making this one of the most visually interesting films in the MCU, along with Doctor Strange. It’s not difficult to see why people would wish it to be a real place.
The only real drawback to this film is its lacklustre action in the third act; the thrills peak in Korea, towards the end of the first act. However, with incredible performances, beautiful visuals, and the fact that it is the only film in this cinematic universe to make me well-up (the scene between Jordan and Brown is by far my favourite scene in the MCU), this is up there with the best. Not to be missed.