After the events of Captain America: Civil War, T'Challa now takes up the mantle of Black Panther and assumes the throne of Wakanda after his father's death. Wakanda is a technologically advanced place, thanks to its reserves of vibranium (the strongest metal in the world). Traditionally, Wakanda stays out of world affairs, doesn't offer aid or refuge, and keeps itself to itself. However, that may be about to change as a powerful adversary- with an unexpected link to Wakanda's past- comes to challenge T'Challa for the throne.
Performances are really strong across the board. Chadwick Boseman gives a performance of great integrity and power as new king T'Challa, struggling with what it means to be a good ruler as Wakanda is threatened.Danai Gurira steals the spotlight several times as General Okoye, head of the Dora Milaje (the Wakandan royal guard) with a performance of wit and warmth, and Letitia Wright is great as T'Challa's sister, Shuri. A cheeky tech wizard, Shuri is essentially T'Challa's Q, creating some spectacular gadgets. Forest Whitaker provides decent support as wise old counselor Zuri, and there's a nicely dignified performance by Angela Bassett as Queen Mother Ramonda.
As T'Challa's love interest Nakia, Lupita Nyong'o is superb and there's a real chemistry between her and Boseman. Nakia isn't just a swooning wallflower though- she's a spy for Wakanda, and a kickass heroine in her own right. Martin Freeman is given more to do this time as CIA Agent Everett Ross and acquits himself well. Daniel Kaluuya is strong as tribesman W'Kabi who clashes with T'Challa over the course Wakanda will take, whilst Winston Duke adds menace as rogue tribe leader M'Baku- and gets a couple of the funniest lines of the film.
As for the villains, whilst Andy Serkis gets a bit broad with his portrayal of villainous arms dealer Ulysses Klaue (complete with wandering South African accent, which sometimes wanders off completely), he's clearly having a lot of fun. On the other hand, Michael B. Jordan brings a brooding intensity to main antagonist Erik Killmonger, a man full of anger and rage. Unusually for a Marvel movie, the main bad guy has a plausible- some may say, legitimate- motivation for his actions.
Ryan Coogler showed his prowess with action sequences with the kinetic matches in Creed, and the big action set-pieces- a high-octane chase through Busan, the casino shoot-out, the ceremonial battles- don't disappoint. The entire production design of the film is superb- everything from the sets to the costumes, the make-up to the visual effects. Rachel Morrison's cinematography is sublime- from the gritty streets of South Korea to the sweeping plains of Wakanda, the film looks amazing. But it has substance too.
Critics tend to get very sniffy about comic book movies. They're low culture, popcorn fodder, sit-back-amd-turn-your-brain-off-and-watch-the-pretty-colours. Not only is this snobbery of the highest order, it's also wrong. The best comic book movies use the fantastical to examine the human condition. Black Panther touches on colonialism, empire, globalisation versus isolationism, what it means to be a good ruler as well as a good person, and the sins of the father being visited upon the son. These are weighty subjects, but they're dealt with in a sensitive manner- there doesn't feel like there's any preaching or speechifying, nor are they treated lightly or as a joke. It's powerful stuff and it sparked a conversation between my friends and I after the film finished about museums and 'civilisation'.
In summary, Black Panther is just superb. Another triumph for Marvel Studios.
Rating: 5 out of 5