It’s incredible to believe that Marvel’s Cinematic Universe began ten years ago. That fateful post-credits scene in Iron Man launched a cinematic phenomenon that has been imitated yet never replicated. Black Panther is the eighteenth film in a franchise that, despite recurring moans of superhero fatigue, continues to dominate the box office and often garners the favour of critics.
The film takes place after the events of Captain America: Civil War, where having aided the fractured Avengers, King T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) returns home to Wakanda to claim his throne. As King, he vows to protect his people and country from outsiders that would strip them of their precious resources and corrupt the nation. Unfortunately, a King is not without his enemies and T’Challa soon finds a challenger to his throne in Erik “Killmonger” Stevens (Michael B. Jordon), a figure from Wakanda’s past with a vengeful bloodlust against an unjust world.
With the character already introduced in Civil War, this allows the film to kick-off with T’Challa already as Black Panther. It negates the need to a 60-minute origin arc that drags out the film, only to promise all the good stuff for its sequel. Still, there is much to explore here with the myth of the superhero’s powers and the culture that surrounds this African superhero. It’s a different flavour for the genre as Marvel once again bring a freshness to the MCU, preventing a staleness that at times dominates their weaker efforts.
The film avoids the origin pitfalls with regards to its main protagonist, instead these faults show in the supporting cast. So many new characters are thrown into the mix with convoluted relationships that are given little time to flourish. The relationships feel rushed as exposition tells us how everyone is linked but fails to entice us to care that much. The cast share a chemistry and it’s easy to invest in the main players, but by the third act I cared little for what happened to others who, despite good performances, had little depth.
Jordon shines as the ruthless Killmonger, pumping the character with venomous indignation. There may not be any sympathy towards this villain, however, he’s more than a cardboard bad guy. His grudge with the world is not without merit; a product of his environment that’s ripe with social injustice. The message is blunt but it doesn’t preach.
Director Ryan Coogler helms some fine action sequences, most notable the car chase in South Korea. It’s a thrilling scene that blends CGI with live action wonderfully. It’s a pity the film’s final battles fail to live up to the bar set so early on.
Coogler and writer Joe Robert Cole do well to refrain from leaning on the MCU keeping the spotlight on the new, but with Avengers: Infinity War around the corner it’s difficult for Black Panther to escape that shroud. Especially when the trailer for the upcoming ensemble piece showcased the character before he got his first solo outing. A decent entry to the MCU, Black Panther promises much more by showing a glimpse of what its capable of. While it excels in its unique presentation, the end product is underwhelming.