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I will restrain myself from pronouncing Black Panther the best of the Marvel Studios movies.
However, you can certainly believe the hype: Black Panther is a wonderful movie – thought provoking, beautiful, exciting, uplifting – and it deserves each accolade it is receiving. On its way to a massive and record opening, Black Panther will, like Wonder Woman last summer, likely serve as a touchstone that will change the way people think about superhero movies.
Actually, it is likely to change the way people think about movies in general. More on that later.
Black Panther does many amazing things, primary among them is passing itself off as a comic book movie. It simply is not or, rather, it is much more than that. Sure, there are the trappings of the superhero story: a young man receives special gifts and powers upon the death of this father and, after fighting through self-doubt and challengers, assumes the mantle of hero. Each-and-every box of that trope is fully checked. Black Panther (played by a very engaging and well cast Chadwick Boseman who premiered in the role in Captain America: Civil War) has a super suit, super powers and is super clear in his mission. He is also a wonderful hero. But he does not act alone.
Of the many surprises Black Panther has in store for its audience, one of the most delightful is that it is actually an ensemble movie. Perhaps even more delightful – and important – is that the ensemble is comprised almost exclusively of women. On hand and in roles which are just as prominent as Boseman’s are Lupita Nyong’o as Nakia, Danai Gurira as Okoye and Leticia Wright as Shuri. Nakia is a secret agent just as competent as the Panther, Okoye is a member of the Panther’s royal guard who is clearly a superior fighter to him and Shuri is the most brilliant character on screen. I wanted to see more of these women that the movie (even at 2 hours and 14 minutes) had time to showcase. Each performance was wonderful and nuanced. Each was full of surprises. Factor in Forrest Whittaker and Angela Bassett in supporting roles as well and you have put together an amazing cast. Each of them, like the movie overall, exceeds expectation.
Michael B. Jordan is remarkable as Eric Killmonger, the protagonist in the film. He embodies Killmonger with complexity and pathos and overcomes some of the typical, villain must be connected to the hero plot devices that plague these movies. His rage is as believable as him being an equal to Black Panther and, when the final showdown comes, Boseman and Jordan are well suited for it and well matched.
The movie itself is unlike any of the others which have proceeded it. There is precious little world building or fan service here and Black Panther is the better for the absence. One part James Bond movie, one part mediation on race, one part celebration of all cultures and one part action movie, Black Panther is simply a terrific and captivating experience that will resonate far beyond the manner in which other comic book movies do. Black Panther wants to be what it is, yes: a Marvel Superhero Movie. But it wants to be – and IS – much more than that. It will have to be counted on any “best of” list of Marvel films and I wonder, way in the back of my head, if we will be talking about it when Academy Award nominations for 2018 are announced early next year.
We should be.
It will continue to smash box office records and reasons it has struck such a note with the general public will be considered, written about and debated. And that is a good thing. The movie gives lie to the idea that a film starring a black cast, featuring black creators and discussing themes of race cannot be a hit with a broad audience.
And thank God for that.
I am looking forward to Boseman and many of the rest of the cast appearing this summer in Avengers: Infinity War and I cannot wait for Black Panther 2.
BLACK PANTHER receives FIVE ARMORED RHINOS out of a possible FIVE.