Chadwick Boseman’s T’Challa made his big screen debut in Captain America: Civil War, stealing the show and instantaneously getting the character on people’s radars. Black Panther picks up immediately after the events of that film, with T’Challa returning home to his kingdom of Wakanda, the secretive, technologically advanced civilization built entirely from the same material used to create Captain America’s shield. T’Challa, after the death of his father in Civil War, is to be pronounced king, but not everyone’s entirely happy with his sudden rise to power. And so enters our villains, Eric Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) and Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis).
There’s real-world politics at play here, dealing with the topic of colonialism and the marginalization of certain members of society. Co-writers Ryan Coogler and Joe Robert Cole bring firm ideas into the mix, making Black Panther bigger and bolder than just an exploration of a cool new civilization. The story is structured more like a James Bond movie than your typical Marvel film, with T’Challa’s genius sister Shuri (Letitia Wright) serving as the Q to T’Challa’s Bond. It’s a cross-country thriller strong in characterization and world building.
Even the first few scenes, all of which are necessary to the plot in the long run, feel a little tedious. They don’t grip you in the same way that, say, the opening sequences of Civil War or even more recently Thor: Ragnarok do. An early nighttime action sequence starts strong, but soon weakens, however action isn’t necessarily this film’s strongest element. There’s a brilliant third act ballet of violence, as well as a thrilling car chase set on the streets of China, but the rest of it falls short in comparison, even with an exceptional set of powers brought to life through the Black Panther suit.
The power play between Killmonger and T’Challa is fascinating, to say the least. The two don’t share an awful lot of scenes until the second half gets going, but whenever they’re on screen together, it’s like dynamite. They’re electric. Killmonger takes more of a backseat to Klaue during the first half, and it’s this first half that really needs tightening. The sequences are stretched out and somewhat repetitive, but once Killmonger makes a certain spoiler-filled power move, the rest of the film is a train that just won’t stop, but damn, I certainly didn’t want it to. It became the Black Panther movie that the world deserves.
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