Since then, Marvel Studios has been gradually building towards a cinematic event to show off their massive stable of superheroes all playing together in the same sandbox, as they will in this summer's Avengers: Infinity War.
It was certainly worth the wait.
Black Panther lingers in the same conversation belonging to the most elite of Marvel films. Handing the reigns to Director Ryan Coogler (Creed, Fruitvale Station) was inspired, and further solidifies his standing as one of the best filmmakers in the game today.
Aside from battling his personal demons, external forces will also test his mettle. It is a superhero film after all. The villain, Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis), has acquired an artifact made of the precious Wakandan ore known as vibranium, and he is looking to hand it off to the highest bidder. This is significant, as Wakanda is like, super secret, and vibranium is the source of their superior technology.
Klaue is a fairly one note villain, but he exists merely to set the stage for the back half of the film. For his part, Serkis, making a rare appearance outside the motion capture world, endlessly chews scenery, cackling and cavorting like a low rent Joker.
It is Michael B. Jordan though, as Erik Killmonger, who assumes the mantle of main villain. Unlike many other Marvel villains, which are constructs of technologies or gods, Killmonger comes from a much more relatable origin; the harsh, inner city streets of Oakland. His motivations are that of revenge for the death of his father and his abandonment from then King T'Chaka. Jordan, one of Coogler's muses (also starring in Coogler joints Fruitvale Station and Creed), is a revelation, giving his character just enough bravado to succeed as a legitimate threat to Black Panther and Wakanda, but also finding a way to express some vulnerability as a tortured, broken man.
Nakia (Lupita Nyong'o), the humanitarian and love interest to T'Challa, is equally fierce in battle. Nyong'o brings the same glaring intensity to Nakia as she did to Patsy in 2013's 12 Years a Slave.
Then there is Shuri (Letitia Wright), the younger sister to T'Challa, full of snarkiness and one-liners which balance out her impressive intelligence. Wright is a scene-stealer every time she shows up on camera.
I could keep raving about the cast, which is a who's who of young Black Hollywood. There is no weak link among them. Sterling K. Brown, Daniel Kaluuya, Winston Duke... all stand out as fully realized characters even with lesser roles in the overall story. Toss in the veteran presence of Forest Whitaker and Angela Bassett to balance it all out.
For the first time in well... ever... persons of color can celebrate a hero on screen, that in turn celebrates their own proud culture and heritage.
Finally, Black America (the film is certainly significant globally, but given the current social climate, it feels necessary to focus on the impact on home soil) can see a hero on screen that looks like they do. Characters are smartly developed; fierce, headstrong, empathetic. The women of Wakanda are warriors, their strength on equal footing with their male counterparts.
Wakanda itself is a spectacle; a gorgeously rendered construct of hi-tech wizardry and African culture which stands equally with the grandeur of Thor's Asgard.
The score by Ludwig Goransson is a grand melding of modern day expression and traditional African rhythms.
As a Marvel film, it breaks free of some of the pitfalls that Marvel has been consistently guilty of.
In Killmonger, we have a villain of smaller scale... one who is not trying to end the world, but is driven by a vengeance rooted in childhood trauma.
Characters deal with internal struggles in a way previous MCU films have fallen short with. T'Challa himself is a conflicted hero, balancing loss, honor, and duty all at once.
And in spite of the social and political ramifications of such a film in a world not nearly as open minded as it should be, Black Panther doesn't worry itself with heavy handed agendas. It doesn't have to. Much like Jordan Peele's Get Out, this is a film willing to stand on the shoulders of its fantastic cast and crew to deliver whatever message you want to take away from it. Smart people get that, and embrace that.
Black Panther is an enjoyable, thrilling, and important film. And it's about damn time!
5 out of 5