Black Panther is a film with more than its fair share of hurdles to jump.
In a period of cinema that feels as though a new superhero film is released every other week, it has to launch a character completely unbeknownst to an audience hungry for more of household names such as Captain America and Iron Man. It’s Marvel Studios’ final offering before the release of Avengers: Infinity War; arguably the most anticipated film in recent history. Finally, it has to follow the overwhelming success of the studio’s most recent offering, Thor: Ragnarok.
In short, there’s a lot of pressure to get it right.
Marvel’s had a lot of success with taking little-known characters and turning them into superstars. 10 years ago, when the world was still reeling from Christopher Nolan’s take on Batman, very few people would have fought over tickets to see the latest exploits of Iron Man, Captain America or Thor. And it seems the studio has worked the same magic with T’Challa, king of the fictional African country, Wakanda, and heir to the mantle of the Black Panther.
Chadwick Boseman puts in a strong performance as the titular warrior-turned-monarch, and it’s a joy to watch him grapple with his role as a new king, trying to determine his nation’s role on the world stage.
However, Michael B. Jordan delivers the film’s standout performance as villain, Eric Killmonger. Seeking to redeem himself for his first foray into the superhero genre, with the poorly executed Fantastic Four, Jordan delivers a villain unlike any we’ve seen before in the MCU. We’re not dealing with another Ronan the Accuser or Malekith the Accursed here, hell-bent on interplanetary destruction. Killmonger is a tortured victim of circumstance, driven to bring the entire nation of Wakanda to its knees by nothing more than sheer iron will.
The resulting performance is undeniably strong, with Jordan stealing every scene and easily proving a match – both physically and morally – for Boseman’s T’Challa.
Black Panther is also being praised as a landmark moment for black actors and actresses. There’s long been evidence of some diversity in the MCU, with Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury, Anthony Mackie’s Falcon and Don Cheadle’s War Machine holding permanent Avenger status. However, never before has a blockbuster superhero film featured a cast made up almost entirely of black actors and actresses, let alone been set in Africa.
Wakanda itself has been beautifully brought to life. The sheer scope of the imagination that has gone into realising a hidden, technologically-advanced African nation, paired with the recognition of real African culture, gives us a truly original stage on which the showdown between T’Challa and Kilmonger can commence. Director, Ryan Coogler, insisted on spending in time in Africa before production took place – and my goodness, it shows.
The result has been immense – and well-deserved – box office success. Black Panther has become the third-highest-grossing film in the United States and tenth-highest-grossing of all time, and has earned a plethora of glowing reviews from critics and fans alike.
Bar the appearance of Martin Freeman’s Everett Ross and the trademark Marvel post-credit sting, the decision to make virtually no reference to the broader Marvel Cinematic Universe is a bold one. Especially so, considering that this is the studio’s last offering before Avengers: Infinity War.
It’s a move that pays off, though. This is a film with its own style and grandeur, and it’s clear from the off that it requires no propping up from the likes of Captain America or Iron Man.
Now, T’Challa’s newfound legions of fans now don’t have long to wait to see more of the MCU’s new golden boy. From the marketing materials, it’s clear that both Wakanda and the Black Panther himself will be featuring in a big way in Infinity War, upon its release in April.
Verdict: One of Marvel’s riskier offerings, the studio’s gamble on Black Panther pays off gloriously, giving us one of the most enjoyable – and most important – MCU films to date