Light plot-related spoilers are ahead.
Oh man, Marvel Studios’ “Black Panther” is almost there. Almost.
The themes echoed across the piece are not just societally relevant, but universal. There couldn’t have been a more perfect director hired than Ryan Coogler of “Creed” and “Fruitvale Station” fame (and hey, Michael B. Jordan as well). And the magnificent art design of the fictional Wakanda is unlike anything you’ve ever seen before.
Ironically the superhero elements hold “Black Panther” back from its fullest potential.
Wakanda, the Marvel Universe’s most technologically advanced but secluded nation, hosts the majority of the film. Picking up after the events of 2016’s “Captain America: Civil War,” T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman), the Black Panther, has ascended to the role of king after the death of his father. The resurface of Wakanda’s most wanted, Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis), alongside a coup led by American black ops soldier Erik Killmonger (Jordan), forces T’Challa to confront the role of his nation’s haunted past in a war-torn world.
The plot of “Black Panther” is appropriately operatic for a regal character like T’Challa. Unlike most comic book characters, the Black Panther is a king first and superhero second — a trait that lets his movie stand out from the rest of the superhero crowd. Wakanda is a culturally marvelous haven, rooted in African aesthetics, and the technological flourishes developed from the nation’s advances in science are truly inspired. Nowhere else in the Marvel Cinematic Universe or the film will you find something like it.
“Black Panther” also boasts a tremendous cast of talented actors, including Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Daniel Kaluuya, Forest Whitaker, Letitia Wright and Angela Basset. Everyone gives a great performance, and everyone gets their due with surprisingly generous amounts of screen time. Gurira is a standout as Okoye, the captain of the Black Panther’s all-female royal guard, who brings the fierce intensity of her other popular media character, Michonne of “The Walking Dead.”
Unfortunately, the dedication given to so many supporting characters significantly detracts from Chadwick Boseman’s time as the Black Panther. Boseman only shines in the role in quick bursts, and it’s a shame more time wasn’t given to him considering its his film.
An even bigger crime is just how excellent but under-represented Jordan is as Erik Killmonger, who has some serious things to say. Killmonger’s urban backstory and his thirst for the Wakandan throne makes him one of the MCU’s most compelling villains, something the series is lacking.
The film could also have used some streamlining. “Black Panther” doesn’t really begin until Killmonger makes his move in the second act, and the events leading up to it feel like forced superhero filler. While Nyong’o is fine as T’Challa’s love interest, Nakia, her character and romantic subplot do not really contribute anything to the film and create principal factors in bloating the film. There is some good action, at least, which is graciously elevated by Coogler’s eye for long takes.
The climactic final battle is similarly flawed while lacking the much better action preceding it. T’Challa and Killmonger’s showdown is choreographed mediocrely and sporadically cut much too frequently with another battle taking place.
Ryan Coogler brings the goods and more with “Black Panther.”
When it’s good, the film is great. When it’s not, it’s at worst only subpar. Creatively brilliant “Black Panther” is a refreshing take on the superhero genre and a very cool celebration of African culture and identity.
Hector Valverde is a freelance reporter at the Daily Lobo. He primarily writes movie reviews. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @hpvalverde.