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Movie Review: Black Panther is a Powerful Beast

Review for the stunning new superhero epic BLACK PANTHER, opening in theatres February 16th, 2018. | Review for the stunning new superhero epic BLACK PANTHER, opening in theatres February 16th, 2018.
Review for the stunning new superhero epic BLACK PANTHER, opening in theatres February 16th, 2018. | Review for the stunning new superhero epic BLACK PANTHER, opening in theatres February 16th, 2018.

The hype, anticipation and the inescapable gossip is all true. Black Panther, the latest solo superhero feature from Marvel Studios, is more than your average superhero story. It’s the first great movie of 2018, and more than that, the best original character story in Marvel’s history.

As a writer in the recent past, I’ve given consistently positive reviews for other Marvel features. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Spider-Man: Homecoming and Thor: Ragnarok were all enjoyable films, if somewhat unremarkable.

What makes Black Panther different is the palpable feeling you have watching the movie. Throughout the entire film, the on-screen action is so captivating it leaves the viewer stuck in their seats with awestruck wonder. You’re left with the impression you’re watching something truly special.

So what makes the Panther so darn interesting? It all begins with the dazzling world of Wakanda; a fictitious, techno-futurist country in Africa. Marvel has taken us to some extraordinary worlds before, but surprisingly, the most lavish was on Earth the whole time.

The plot follows Prince T’Challa/Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) as he prepares to ascend the Wakandian throne. His world is soon threatened by an extremist and outcast of his people (Michael B. Jordan), and T’Challa must confront his family’s past to protect his country and save the world from a destructive secret.

Wakanda is a Marvel in and of itself

As a setting, Wakanda is a wonderland of creative possibilities. The film’s production is relentlessly rich in culture. The stunning production design and intricate costumes are a feast for the senses based on a mix of real African tribes and cultures. The spectacle of true cultures and people create a mesmerizing style that only becomes richer.

Director Ryan Coogler (Fruitvale Station, Creed) is known for great action movies in culturally rich places. This effort is different, however, because unlike his past work and other Marvel properties, the African landscape is so warm and colourful.

These are serious ideas and highly intense stakes being set against a warm and comedic design style. This contrast redefines the level of originality audiences have come to expect from major studio pictures like this.

Finally, the film excels from the dynamic strength of its ensemble of characters. Killmonger (Jordan’s villain) is a tantalizing menace. But T’Challa’s sister, Suri (Letitia Wright) is the biggest scene-stealer. A hilarious teenage sibling, courageous patriot and genius inventor, she’s unlike any black woman you’ve seen on screen before.

The rest of cast has great depth to it. Smaller parts from Sterling K. Brown, Angela Bassett, Forest Whitaker and Andy Serkis show how diverse the talent pool really is. Also back is Martin Freeman as FBI Agent Ross (from Captain America: Civil War.)

One of the nicest treats is how this movie is tastefully incorporated into the grander Avengers universe. There’s a few nods and references to the larger world, but all things considered, the story is totally unique. You don’t need to have seen any previous Marvel movie to follow the story.

It's more significant than any Marvel film before

It’s equally enjoyable for everyone in the audience. It’s about being a global citizen, and the moral is approachable to all ages and backgrounds.

T’Challa isn’t a hero for hero’s sake. He’s a king and a leader, and we learn the same lesson about the responsibility of leadership beside him. Black Panther teaches us what it means to serve others, and what truth in justice really means.

These are all such special, new things to see in a Marvel property. You’d be remiss for skipping it, especially with a strong theme of inclusiveness and sharing what makes us unique. And what brings humanity together.

In one scene, a United Nations representative pompously interrogates King T’Challa following a speech. The UN representitave asks, “What is it exactly that Wakanda has to offer us?” That’s the subtle question Coogler spends the film answering brilliantly.

Black Panther isn’t an excellent movie because of it’s notable diversity and timeliness (although it does have both of those things.) It’s an excellent movie because it’s exciting, intelligent, and emotionally powerful - all while showcasing diverse artists with an important lesson.

And yes, the panther is black. Beyond that, it’s a force to be reckoned with.

Black Panther
4 out of 4 stars

PG, 2hrs 14mins. Superhero Sci-Fi Adventure Epic.
Written and Directed by Ryan Coogler.
Starring Chadwick Boseman, Lupita Nyong'o, Michael B. Jordan and Danai Gurira, Letitia Wright and Martin Freeman.
Now Playing at Film.Ca Cinemas, Cineplex Winston Churchill and Cineplex Oakville & VIP. Also in IMAX.