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Review: Black Panther

With the continued onslaught of films in the ever-expanding Marvel Cinematic Universe, it is easy to start feeling like they make these films on an assembly line. Especially recently as each film has been in service to a larger overarching storyline, that may or may not pay off with Avengers: Infinity War. It would be hard to call any of the films thus far deeply personal. This is what sets Black Panther apart from every Marvel film before it, it is a personal work by an artist with something to say. In that way, Black Panther mirrors Wonder Woman, another personal superhero film that celebrates a representation not always found in these types of films.

Director Ryan Coogler has been on a roll, but Black Panther cements him as a major director of color with his biggest film yet. Like he did with Fruitvale Station and Creed, Coogler drives his stories with big emotional wallops. He also has found increasingly clever ways to weave in racial politics into his film, where Fruitvale Station was blunt Black Panther is in turn sly.

The film takes place away from the rest of the MCU. It has a rather simple one. After taking the throne of the African nation of Wakanda, T'Challa (Chadwick Boseman) assumes the role of Black Panther and is soon off to hunt a rival of his now deceased father and former king T'Chaka (John Kani). This begins to reveal a past secret that threatens his role on the throne over Wakanda. By his side are his delightful sister Shuri (Letitia Wright) and Okoye, played with physical grace by Danai Gurira. 

The biggest knock on the film may be that the screenplay falls into some familiar troupes. Most audiences will know where things are headed but Coogler and co-writer Joe Robert Cole make each moment count because they care about making characters matter. The stellar ensemble cast help ensures that the huge set of characters are memorable and have real motivations past plot service. 

Wakanda is a fascinating world full of five tribes and enough politics and grabs for the throne to be akin to Westeros. It is a world that feels like it can support several more stories within it and I hope that Coogler and company will return to it again. 

Black Panther succeeds in solving Marvel's villain problem. The film, in fact, has two primary antagonists that both make a memorable mark. Andy Serkis is a blast here, chewing up the scenery. Michael B. Jordan is a black ops superstar known as Killmonger who creates the best Marvel villain to date, full of emotional depth and pain. He is a complicated adversary and his ruthless behavior is driven by the years of oppression people of color have faced throughout the world. 

Rachel Morrison, coming off the Oscar-nominated Mudbound, gives the film a rich look full of purples and golds. Every frame of the film celebrates blackness in some form and this makes for a style not seen on such a wide scale before. Ruth E. Carter's costume design is a thing of art and constantly I found myself wowed by each new outfit.

Black Panther deserves to be a massive hit and it will likely be one. The film manages to have a depth of emotions and a heck of a lot to say about race in America. It is refreshing to see a Marvel film that feels like it is made by an auteur. Ryan Coogler has graduated. 



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