I knew going in to Black Panther that it would probably be good. The reviews were roundly positive and it was making a lot of money globally. I did not expect it to be my new favorite Marvel movie.
It has the superhero, the action scenes, and the single nemesis I expected. On face, it also has a familiar plotline: Acts 1, 2, and 3 pretty much follow the broad strokes of my expectations. But it broke the mold in two key ways that elevated it for me: First, in its unabashed embrace of African culture and the beauty of black skin, and second, in the character of Wakanda itself. Because Wakanda may be a fictional nation, but it is absolutely the main character of this movie.
I was expecting a good guy vs bad guy story, but I was delighted to find much more: an exploration of protectionism vs global engagement and a candid acknowledgement of the costs of colonialism, particularly as paid by black people.
Danai Gurira and Michael B Jordan steal the show. Gurira is a joy to watch; her character (Okoye, a bodyguard for the king) has a surprising and pleasant depth for this sort of supporting character: a good person who makes some questionable decisions based on her interpretation of the law. She exemplified, for me, the sorts of difficult decisions countless government officials (Preet Bharara and Sally Yates come immediately to mind) had to make after Trump took power. She effortlessly joins the ranks of Eowen, Rey, Wonderwoman, and the other incredible female role models we’ve been blessed with in recent history. And Jordan presents a fascinating and compelling antagonist, whose flawed actions are driven not only by a sympathetic backstory, but by the untenable continued oppression of black people worldwide. I didn’t want him to achieve his aims, but I was still rooting for his cause to be taken up, and that’s part of the beauty of the film: its protagonist’s victory would be hollow if it didn’t involve an acknowledgement and even adoption of his enemy’s motivations.
All of this depth, wrapped up with some fantastic set pieces and driving action. Eye candy galore, intimate personal conflicts, AND deep political and philosophical questions? In one movie, and a MARVEL movie at that? I loved it. It made me ache for what the current Star Wars trilogy could have been. I hope Rian Johnson is taking notes. Coogler and Cole have shown how to incorporate meaningful politics into pop culture action without missing a beat.