Review: Ryan Coogler's 'Black Panther' Sets a New High-Bar in the MCU
by Jeremy Kirk
February 16, 2018
Meanwhile, back in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, director Ryan Coogler is schooling everyone on how it's supposed to be done. The Oakland-born filmmaker made waves, huge waves, right out of the gate with his feature debut, Fruitvale Station (2013), and then again with the Rocky spin-off, Creed (2015). There's a natural apprehension anytime an up-and-coming filmmaker steps in to take on a blockbuster project, but Black Panther, Coogler's first endeavor into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, defiantly puts any doubts to rest. The film successfully sets a new bar for not only comic book movies, but also action movies as a whole. Smart, stylish, and with a ton at work under the surface, Black Panther is an exhilarating addition to the MCU and one more indication that Coogler is a filmmaker worth taking note of.
Set directly following the events of Captain America: Civil War, Black Panther quickly drops us into the world of Prince T'Challa (Chadwick Boseman), heir to the throne of the African nation of Wakanda. The country, hidden away deep in the vast continent, is home to a precious metal, vibranium, which many will remember has a strong presence elsewhere in the MCU. Wakanda has vibranium in abundance and utilizes the alien metal to create a highly advanced civilization, but the people of the country, uneasy of the world outside their own borders, keep the metal and its possible uses to themselves. After T'Challa's father, King T'Chaka (John Kani), perishes during the events of Civil War, it is up to T'Challa to take his father's throne as well as his moniker of Black Panther, protector of the proud nation of Wakanda.
The world outside is growing aware of what T'Challa's country has to offer, though, and there are those who will stop at nothing to obtain the vibranium deposits for their own uses. Enter Erik "Killmonger" Stevens (Michael B. Jordan, also seen in Creed), a forgotten son of Wakanda who believes himself to be the rightful ruler of the powerful nation. With the help of nefarious arms dealer Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis), Killmonger makes his presence and intentions known to the world, and it falls on T'Challa and the people of Wakanda to stop the villains from succeeding in their diabolical plot.
It's taken a number of years for a Black Panther film to come to fruition, which shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone who knows the long history of the character even getting his own comic book line. Nonetheless, Ryan Coogler and Joe Robert Cole, with whom Coogler co-wrote the screenplay, bring the character to cinematic life with an ease rarely seen with this type of film. More so than the Black Panther character, Coogler and Cole utilize the idea of Wakanda and its use of vibranium to create a fantastic and beautiful world. The nation is a highly advanced one, and the resulting technology and styles give the film a sci-fi edge over the other Earth-based films in the MCU.
Black Panther's suit, weapons, and gear are all vibranium-based, and the gadgets give the character more than a little spark of James Bond. It doesn't hurt that T'Challa is surrounded by strong and dangerous women: Letitia Wright as Shuri, T'Challa's younger sister and designer of his gadgets who shares more than a few similarities to James Bond's Q; Okoye, played by Danai Gurira, head of Wakanda's all-female special forces and private security; and Lupita Nyong'o as Nakia, a spy for the nation who has a long and close history with T'Challa. The women in Black Panther are all impressively realized and suitably badass, one more indication of the film's advanced level of storytelling.
Black Panther is not all just impressive gadgets and kick ass characters, though. Coogler and Cole's desire to create something more than a standard, comic book movie comes to light in nearly every aspect of the film. The most remarkable of these is in the story of the antagonist, Killmonger. He is the primary antagonist of the film due to his butting of heads with T'Challa, the film's hero, but you would be hard-pressed to consider Killmonger an out-and-out villain. Coogler and Cole take the character's motivations and run with them, ultimately creating an antagonist with whom you not only understand and agree with, you begin to find yourself rooting for him.
It helps that the character is brought to life by an actor as gifted as Michael B. Jordan, who has collaborated with Coogler on all three of his films with outstanding results. Boseman is commendable as the film's titular hero, but Jordan steals every scene in which he finds himself, never going over the top but always in complete command of his presence. I would say Jordan steals the whole show were it not for the presence of Gurira and her security guard character of Okoye. She gives every last action sequence an added level of excitement, particularly a heart-stopping chase scene through Busan, South Korea that marks an impressive feat by everyone involved.
Add to the mix an outstanding soundtrack headed by Kendrick Lamar and Black Panther ends up being a remarkable accomplishment in modern-day filmmaking. Coogler has already been a talented filmmaker who impresses, but, with three works of art already under his belt, you would be hard-pressed to remember another director who came onto the scene this quickly with as much effortless talent as this. With the idea of isolationism and the prejudices of the modern world well in mind, Black Panther is not only an outstanding work in comic book filmmaking. It is an important film with undeniable messages well in hand. Like the nation of Wakanda itself, Black Panther is working on a whole new level and marks a new standard when it comes to Marvel Cinematic Universe.