WARNING: Slight spoilers ahead.
Generally, it is hard to live up to the hype. When an entire subgenre of film and the mainstream representation of young boys and girls rides on living up to the hype, it is easy to crash and burn. Black Panther did the exact opposite; the movie took all of the hype and redistributed it to a level of greatness and excellence that superhero movies have never seen.
Black Panther has a jaw-dropping cast starring Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Angela Basset, Forest Whitaker, Lupita N’yongo, Sterling K. Brown, Danai Gurira, Daniel Kaluuya, Letitia Wright, and John Kani. In a genre of film where acting usually takes a backseat to visual effects, Black Panther destroyed that narrative. All of the actors, specifically Sterling K. Brown (N’Jobu), Michael B. Jordan (Killmonger), and Danai Gurira (Okoye), deliver intense and nuanced performances that highlight every shade of their character’s soul. It is important to note that without a great script it is infinitely more difficult to deliver a great performance. The film’s writers, Jack Kirby, Ryan Coogler, and Joe Robert Cole, have crafted a masterful screenplay that tackles ancestry, intraracial and interracial affairs, and global black history with diligence and fearlessness. The script, and by extension the film, is equal parts comedy, history, and drama, with tightly choreographed and highly entertaining action scenes sewn in.
Black Panther also triumphs in its stunning visual effects. Scenes set in the spirit realm, the Wakandan sunset, and the first entrance into Wakanda, are absolutely stunning. The meticulousness of the coloring and saturation and balancing of these scenes is simply breathtaking. On that end, the action scenes, explosions, and the like are not merely placeholders. In many superhero films, action scenes can feel arbitrary and merely ways to move to the next scene. In Black Panther, the sound mixing is incredible and the fight scenes are intense without feeling forced. These scenes help push the parallel narratives of intraracial discord and interracial disputes.
Without giving too much away, one thing Black Panther deserves endless praise for is the way that all of the storylines and character arcs intertwine. Every line, facial expression, and role have a specific purpose in advancing and deepening the plot of the film. I’ve already reviewed and discussed the soundtrack here, but one element that runs throughout the film is the representation of African culture. As on the soundtrack, African representation runs deep in the cast from the Zimbabwean-raised Gurira to the South African Kani, and Daniel Kaluuya and Florence Kasumba (Ayo) who are both of Ugandan origin. The film beautifully portrays the intricacies and majesty of African culture from the music, accents, and dancing to the hair, makeup, and costumes. Again, without giving too much away, Black Panther expertly highlights the nuance and importance of the relationship between Africans and Black Americans. That is Ryan Coogler’s crowning triumph among many in his helming of the film.
Finally, among many political statements in the film, perhaps the most important is its portrayal of women in Wakanda’s society. There is no talk of “strong and powerful women” because, from the beginning, Wakanda’s women have been on the same level of power as the men. They are agile, intelligent, fierce, fearless, and steadfast. This is true equity and equality. A young black woman is the face of Wakanda’s tech industry, the most advanced in the world. A black woman is the strongest and best warrior of Wakanda, outperforming scores and scores of men. Above all, Black Panther answers this question: What would the world be like if black people were not oppressed worldwide? In Black Panther, blackness is beautiful, unbeatable, royal, and majestic. It is a film that celebrates all forms of blackness and teases the global liberation of black people.
No film is flawless, but Black Panther reaches that mark in nearly every aspect of the film. Black children around the world can finally see themselves as the greatest superhero in the world, and that is a beautiful sight.