T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) must play many roles as the ruler of Wakanda. Warrior. Protector. Brother. King. But it’s his role as a grieving son struggling to understand the choices of his father that shines through in his first solo outing in Marvel’s Black Panther.
After successfully reining in his desire for revenge after the murder of his father in Captain America: Civil War, T’Challa returns home to be crowned the rightful king. Complications arise when Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) mounts a rage-fuelled challenge to the throne, which T’Challa tries to hold off with the help of his family and allies as the Black Panther.
Chadwick Boseman gives a powerful performance as a young man groomed to lead since birth, yet who is suddenly thrust into his role too soon. As a king, he must make difficult decisions about how much he is willing to risk his people’s safety to help the outside world. As a son, he must come to terms with the fact that his father may not have been as perfect a ruler as previously believed.
Boseman walks a fine line between all these strong emotions with stunning sincerity, and shows you that having super powers may not be the defining feature of a superhero.
There are other standout performances as well. Jordan hits all the right notes as a man angry at a tragic personal history, but also the injustice of the world at large. He deserves more screen time but there was a lot of ground to cover.
Lupita Nyong’o as spy and T’Challa’s love interest Nakia, has good chemistry with Boseman, but the romantic subplot is not a huge focus. Letitia Wright as Shuri, T’Challa’s younger sister and genius inventor, thrives in the role with her playfulness and gentle mocking of her older brother, which feels like genuine banter between siblings.
The larger vision and overall direction of the film was also very inspired. Director Ryan Coogler (who previously co-wrote and directed Jordan in Creed and Fruitvale Station) used the film not just to showcase, but also proudly celebrate African culture. Under another director’s hand, the approach could have taken an exploitative nature. But here, the respect and love for the different values and traditions is real.
The action sequences and production values were top-notch, though not the main reasons to watch. The soundtrack is also very appropriate and deserves a closer listen after the film.
Black Panther is the best Marvel film to date. It is a superhero movie. But more than that, it’s a super movie.