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'Black Panther' Film Review: Diversity, Inclusivity and a Social Conscience Come to the Marvel Cinematic Universe

February 6, 2018Ben MK

The Marvel Cinematic Universe is experiencing something of a renaissance. That is, if you can consider Avengers: Age of Ultron and Doctor Strange to be slumming it. Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2 was about as close to pure joy as a superhero movie could get, and Thor: Ragnarok brought a fun and fresh take to an established character. Now, with director Ryan Coogler's Black Panther, the MCU embarks on one of its most ambitious cinematic journeys yet.

Past Marvel films have generally either favored epic stories where the fate of the world hangs in the balance or the more personal struggles of its heroes. Black Panther, on the other hand, does both. The on-screen depiction of Wakanda as a futuristic city hidden from the outside world by a massive cloaking shield is not unlike a sci-fi version of Wonder Woman's Themyscira, feeling like a whole otherwordly planet unto its own, and the film has a global feel, making its scope feel anything but small. At the same time, the core of the movie is all about the emotions and personal conflict that T'Challa must face along his journey to fulfill his destiny.

Chadwick Boseman reprises the role he first took on in Captain America: Civil War, and he does a superb job carrying the weight of the story. In Civil War, having assumed the crown and the mantle of the Black Panther in the wake of his father, King T'Chaka's death, T'Challa was primarily driven by vengeance. But here, Boseman deepens his portrayal of the character significantly. Black Panther doesn't just follow T'Challa's continuing adventures as the titular character, it shows how he comes to understand what it means to be a leader, and how he uses this newfound awareness to challenge his culture's norms for the betterment of the world.

Joining Boseman are a slew of black actors without whom the film just would not be the same. Letitia Wright, most recently seen in the new season of Black Mirror, plays Shuri, T'Challa's younger sister, who also happens to be a scientific genius; Danai Gurira, of Walking Dead fame, plays Okoye, a member of Wakanda's elite female warriors, the Dora Milaje; and Lupita Nyong'o is Nakita, another fierce female warrior, who also happens to be T'Challa's ex. Needless to say, these three actresses embody the strong female element of the movie. And then you have Get Out's Daniel Kaluuya, This is Us' Sterling K. Brown, Winston Duke, Angela Bassett and Forest Whitaker.

Of all the new characters, though, it’s Michael B. Jordan's Erik who deserves special mention. Better known as Killmonger, Jordan's is perhaps the most fully-realized villain we've seen thus far in the MCU. Many of his predecessors have been one-dimensional, but Killmonger's personal connection to T'Challa, along with Jordan's compelling performance, help the character stand apart. Add to that the fact that Killmonger's motivations come from a place that many viewers will certainly be able to relate to, and not only does it bring an interesting angle to the film, it also ties in with the idealology of the real-life civil rights group that shares the Black Panther name.

As for how Black Panther itself ties in with the rest of the MCU, its story is fairly self-contained and standalone, but that doesn't mean that Coogler and co-screenwriter Joe Robert Cole don't do anything to fill in the gaps. That said, the film is much more than just a bridge between the events of Captain America: Civil War and this summer's Avengers: Infinity War. And considering how well-received it's bound to be, you can be assured that this is just the beginning of a wave of much more diverse and empowering superhero blockbusters to come.

Black Panther releases February 16th, 2018 from Walt Disney Pictures. The film has an MPAA rating of PG-13 for prolonged sequences of action violence, and a brief rude gesture. Its runtime is 2 hrs. 14 min.

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