With February being Black History Month it’s fitting Disney and Marvel released one of 2018’s most-anticipated films during this time. Black Panther is the first MCU superhero film with a black man at its epicenter and thus has the potential to provide something inspirational. Directed by Ryan Coogler, who’s responsible for impressive offerings like Creed and Fruitvale, Black Panther is a celebration of African/black culture. At the same time, almost all of its cast and crew are black, unheard of with a major studio production. Black Panther is special because of that and because it preaches unity and positivity. Thus, it’s a viable contender for best MCU feature.

With an excellent performance from Chadwick Boseman, he reprises his role as T’Challa/Black Panther. Marvel did an excellent job of introducing the character in Captain America: Civil War, and his appearance whet the appetites of viewers craving a legit black superhero. There have been some in the past (notably Blade). More recently, DC introduced Cyborg in Justice League (and Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice), but neither one of them are as anticipated and welcomed than T’Challa. With T’Challa being from Africa and hails from the quiet country of Wakanda, Black Panther has all the qualities of a true icon. Coogler’s latest is as much a celebration of African culture as it is an adventure of a superhero who’s learning to be a leader. Both aspects go hand-in-hand during this feature and it’s astonishing to witness such a beautiful world.

Black Panther boasts an impressive cast. Coogler was able to procure Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Daniel Kaluuya, Letitia Wright, Winston Duke, Sterling K. Brown, Angela Bassett, Forest Whitaker, Andy Serkis and Martin Freeman. Coogler gets the most from them, too, although most of the focus is on T’Challa.

In regards to Michael B. Jordan, he is likely the best villain Marvel’s produced thus far. As Erik Killmonger, he is a damaged person whose pain and suffering is just motivation for his actions. Jordan approaches him with hostility and anger and clouds the notion that he’s an outright antagonist. Jordan was the perfect choice to play Killmonger and he is a worthy adversary to T’Challa.

Boseman, though, made the biggest statement. Black Panther, as a character, came with an almost immeasurable amount of expectation, and there was the possibility that T’Challa would be interpreted incorrectly and even exploitatively. But with Coogler’s top-shelf direction and the seasoned acting of Boseman T’Challa is strong, caring and empathetic. This is also a coming of age film since T’Challa is still transitioning from prince to king. But Boseman, who’s been overlooked in the past playing iconic African-American figures such as Jackie Robinson (in 42), Thurgood Marshall (in Marshall), and James Brown (in Get on Up), was more than up to task. Thanks to his performance, children all over want to be Black Panther. And even more impressive, children of all races want to be T’Challa. That’s how inspirational this film is and that’s also how impressive Boseman’s performance is.

Also worth mentioning is Coogler’s awareness of the strength within women. T’Challa has personal bodyguards who are all women. Known as the Dora Milaje, they are Wakanda’s greatest warriors. And their leader is Okoye, played magnificently by The Walking Dead’s Danai Gurira. Okoye is loyal to the throne, headstrong and a great warrior. The fact that she’s a woman should be a non-factor, but today’s culture should serve as recognition that women can do anything a man can, and can do it better. Piggybacking off of that notion is the fact that T’Challa’s sister Shuri (Wright) is a genius whose intelligence rivals both Tony Stark’s and Bruce Banner. Shuri is T’Challa’s gadget maker and is similar to 007’s Q. Shuri is vital to T’Challa’s success and behind the scenes she’s vital to another character in the MCU.

Finally, T'Challa's love interest is Nakia, played magificently by Oscar winner Nyong'o. Nakia is a fine example of balance - she is both strong and caring. She is not the typical damsel in distress, rather, she is T'Challa's equal. Overall, Coogler’s reverence for women is fantastic, so Black Panther is a film for both men and women.

I don’t feel the need to talk much about the story, mainly because in this case I feel it more necessary to comment on its effect on pop culture. But I will say that this is a self-contained Marvel entry, and since nearly every entry almost HAS to connect to Marvel’s vast universe, that feat is impressive. At 134 minutes, there are a couple of lulls, but for the most part Black Panther moves with pace. In addition, its cinematography is amazing (thanks to Oscar-nominated cinematographer Rachel Morrison, and its score is fitting and subtle (Ludwig Goransson).

Black Panther is the eighteenth film in the MCU and surprisingly it feels as things have come full circle. Coogler and Joe Robert Cole provided a script that harkens back to the original Iron Man. But instead of following that blockbuster’s blueprint, it used some of Iron Man’s boldness to go in a different direction with both Black Panther and his homeland.

Coogler recognized this to be an important film, and he made sure to deliver. He also used Black Panther to highlight both past and present struggles because in all honesty the racial component cannot be ignored. It’s not preachy but Coogler acknowledges the obvious. This makes Black Panther the most politically-charged feature (without being overly political) that celebrates culture, being proud of one’s culture, and uniting by acknowledging the beauty of other cultures. Oh yeah, and it happens to be incredibly entertaining.

4.5 stars out 5

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