Plot: T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) has claimed the throne of Wakanda, an isolated nation that the outside world sees as backward and destitute, but it actually a hidden bastion of high end tech. While leadership is in his bloodline, T’Challa knows threats will emerge from rival factions within Wakanda, but he doesn’t count on the past to rise up and challenge his throne. Ulysses (Andy Serkis) has been a constant thorn in the side of the nation and now in possession of some priceless vibranium, he poses more of a threat than ever before. After all, if the wonders of the element are discovered by the world, the source will be sought out at all costs. He was assisted by Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan), who has his own grudges against Wakandan leadership and wants to use Ulysses as a ticket inside the hidden nation. Even with the powers of the Black Panther, can T’Challa fend off these multi-front threats and lead his people into a new era of Wakanda, or will one of his rivals win the throne?
Entertainment Value: Black Panther was a massive hit for Marvel and sparked a lot of conversations about inclusion and representation, but as a movie, it does little to break out of the usual Marvel mold. The narrative is well worn ground and follows the typical Marvel blueprint, but the real draw of Black Panther is the production design, which is excellent. This is where the movie separates from the generic Marvel Cinematic Universe, with rich visuals and attention to detail, giving us an authentic Wakanda that feels like a real locale. I liked the movie when it focused on the culture and traditions of Wakanda, but that atmosphere can only do so much, given the weak script and T’Challa’s blandness as the lead. He is such a generic presence, especially when contrasted with Killmonger, who has charisma and dynamic screen presence, making T’Challa even less interesting in the process. The action scenes are basic and soaked in awful CGI, though no worse than most of Marvel’s output. In the end, I appreciate some aspects of Black Panther and the impact it had on representation in cinema, but it still winds up as a middle of the road superhero movie.
I think Chadwick Boseman was a great choice to bring T’Challa for life, but as skilled as he is, there’s only so much he can do with this material. The script crafts T’Challa as a generic character and despite him being the titular role, Black Panther himself takes a backseat to Killmonger. Boseman is good in the role, but gets little time to show off his talents and thanks to the basic, forgettable character, his performance doesn’t rank in the top ten performances here. This is a shame, as T’Challa is an interesting character but relegated to an afterthought in Marvel’s vision. The real lead of Black Panther is Michael B. Jordan as Killmonger, a much more interesting and dynamic character, one you wish was the true focus of the movie. He is one of the best villains in the MCU and could have been even better, if he was given a proper rival to battle. Jordan steals the show here and has most of the film’s most memorable moments, so the title might be Black Panther, but this is Killmonger’s movie. The cast also includes Martin Freeman, Daniel Kaluuya, Angela Bassett, Andy Serkis, and Forest Whitaker.