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Katherine is the Managing Editor at The Hudsucker. She has been working in libraries for the past 10 years and holds a B.A. in American Studies & Ethnicity from the University of Southern California. In her free time, the Seattleite enjoys writing fiction, going to brunch, taking long walks with her roommate, and playing Dungeons & Dragons with her friends. Katherine is a huge fan of the Seattle Mariners and has probably seen every Marvel movie at least five times. She loves classic rock and can quote even the most obscure lines from The Simpsons. Follow Katherine on Twitter: @thethingiskat.

Movie Review: ‘Black Panther’ Shines Atop the MCU

Image Credit: Marvel Studios

Warning: This review contains spoilers. 

Black Panther‘s record-breaking opening weekend proved that not just Marvel fans were excited about the character getting his own solo movie. But superhero movies with such high expectations turn out to be duds almost as often as they end up hitting it out of the park. Thankfully, Black Panther definitely falls into the latter category, and the Ryan Coogler directed movie is far and away one of the best the Marvel Cinematic Universe has to offer.

The cast, featuring Chadwick Boseman as the title character, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o, and Danai Gurira, is one of Marvel’s best and most engaging ensembles and helps propel the film to one that can be enjoyed by anyone, not just fans of the superhero genre.

Image Credit: Marvel Studios

Where Black Panther succeeds more than any other MCU film is its nuanced and compelling characters. Chadwick Boseman’s T’Challa is introduced in Captain America: Civil War, but little is known about him aside from him wanting to avenge his father’s death. This movie starts just after that with T’Challa coming back home to Wakanda to take his place as both King of Wakanda and the Black Panther. We’re introduced to his entire family and support system, his teenage sister Shuri, played by Letitia Wright, who is an absolute genius and is responsible for the technological advancements of the country. She is at the very least on par with, if not succeeding, the genius of Tony Stark (side note: it would be amazing to see them interact in a future MCU film). Lupita Nyong’o’s Nakia, who at first is introduced as T’Challa’s love interest, is much more than that, as she goes undercover to other countries as a spy for Wakanda, while also providing an important humanitarian perspective. Danai Gurira’s Okoye, the leader of the Dora Milaje, Wakanda’s all-female special forces team and bodyguards to the King, might be the highlight of the movie. Her fierceness and snark had audiences cheering, while her love for Wakanda shone through every aspect of her character. Expertly playing T’Challa’s mother, Ramonda, is Angela Bassett, and the only downside to her character is that there wasn’t more of her in the movie.

The female characters are by far the highlight of the film, but the supporting male characters are also excellent. Michael B. Jordan shines as the morally gray villain Erik Killmonger. It’s easy to sympathize with his point of view and be frustrated with Wakanda’s history of inaction in helping out the rest of the world, while still seeing the problematic aspects of his methods. Winston Duke is extraordinary as M’Baku, the leader of the Jabari tribe. While the character of M’Baku is historically one of Black Panther’s main antagonists, the movie portrays him as both an antagonist but also a reluctant ally. His uneasy alliance with T’Challa at the end, “a life for a life,” is incredibly fascinating, and since he’s said to be appearing in Avengers: Infinity War, here’s to hoping there will be much more M’Baku in the MCU going forward. Forest Whitaker is excellent as Zuri, who serves as a spiritual leader in Wakanda and a confidant of sorts for T’Challa. Martin Freeman and Andy Serkis round out the ensemble, with their characters of Everett Ross and Ulysses Klaue adding support to the stellar cast.

Image Credit: Marvel Studios

What Black Panther does best in comparison to other Marvel Cinematic Universe movies is showcasing how both the protagonist and the villain can be correct. While most Marvel movies feature a very clear-cut good guy and bad guy, Black Panther is not that cut and dry. The difference between T’Challa and Killmonger, who is revealed to be T’Challa’s cousin N’Jadaka, is less about ideals and more about the methods used to attain them. Wakanda’s isolationist policies are harder to reconcile with the current climate of the world, and Killmonger rightly sees that Wakanda needs a bigger presence on the world’s stage. His way of doing that, however, would be for Wakanda to weaponize and conquer, with the King of Wakanda ruling over the world. T’Challa, however, initially believing his country’s existing isolationist policies are the right way to go, comes around with a much more measured approach over the course of the movie, culminating in the mid-credits scene at the United Nations where he introduces himself to the world and offers to share Wakanda’s resources. While T’Challa learned from Nakia, Killmonger, and others around him, Killmonger seemingly refused to entertain other viewpoints. Neither T’Challa or Killmonger are right or wrong, and Black Panther does a great job of showcasing that gray area.

The visuals of the movie also put Black Panther over the top. The scenery and the costumes are absolutely breathtaking while still being grounded in reality. While Guardians of the Galaxy is one of the other MCU films with stunning visuals, they are all visual effects and based off what people assume outer space to be. Black Panther takes its inspiration from existing African and black cultures and transforms that into what would be realistic for an advanced country like Wakanda. The movie is worth a second watch just to focus on the visuals and costumes instead of the plot, and it’s obvious from watching it that more care and thought were put into those things than in any other Marvel movie before. Ryan Coogler’s vision and care about Wakanda and the characters was evident throughout, and his directing was absolutely spectacular. Hopefully Marvel will bring him back for any future Black Panther sequels and allow him to influence the MCU going forward, in the same way they did for Joss Whedon and the Russo brothers previously.

Image Credit: Marvel Studios

So where does Black Panther rank in the Marvel Cinematic Universe? It’s cultural impact alone could put it at the top, and The Avengers is the only Marvel movie that grossed more domestically during its opening weekend, making Black Panther 5th all time. While any ranking is obviously subjective, it’s hard to argue against it being near the top, if not the best that Marvel has put out so far. In terms of origin stories, it rivals the first Iron Man. It has the heart and earnestness of the Captain America films, while the visuals and engaging storyline rival that of Guardians of the GalaxyBlack Panther is one of the rare comic book movies that stands alone as a great film. Black Panther is firmly grounded in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, while remaining relevant to the current cultural climate and sparking a dialogue about the right way to use power and resources. It’s broad social commentary cannot be overlooked and makes the film more powerful than the average superhero movie. While Marvel fans will obviously get more out of it, casual moviegoers can enjoy it as well without needing to catch up on the rest of the MCU. There’s no doubt that Black Panther is the highlight of Marvel’s Phase Three at this point, and it more than deserves to be in the conversation of best MCU movie.

What did you think of Black Panther? Let us know in the comments!

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