T’Challa, after the death of his father, the King of Wakanda, returns home to the isolated, technologically advanced African nation to succeed to the throne and take his rightful place as king.
I honestly had no idea what to expect with “Black Panther.” With most superhero movies, I typically keep my expectations low and find I enjoy the film more. While there are exceptions to the rule (yeah, I’m looking at you “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice”), for the most part, they are very entertaining and I think I might be one of the few critics who thoroughly enjoyed “Justice League.” As the Marvel Cinematic Universe expands exponentially, more and more superheroes are getting standalone movies and this was actually a stroke of genius on Marvel’s behalf, introduce the characters to the world one film at a time and then bring them all together for “The Avengers” and beyond.
Black Panther a.k.a. T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) was first introduced to cinema audiences in 2016’s “Captain America: Civil War” and here, the movie continues from its predecessor. After his father was killed during “Civil War,” T’Challa returns to his homeland of Wakanda where he is crowned the new King. He soon discovers that many years ago, his uncle, Prince N’Jobu (Sterling K. Brown), fled Wakanda, believing that their technology could help those oppressed around the world and he decided to lead a crusade to arm them. When T’Challa’s father, T’Chaka, at the time, the King of Wakanda, found out, he traveled to Los Angeles to confront him but during a struggle, inadvertently killed him. He then left America, leaving N’Jobu’s young son Erik (Michael B. Jordan) behind, so his people would never learn of his betrayal. Over the years, however, as Erik grew, as well as his thirst for revenge, he teamed up with Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis), a black-market arms dealer and together, they successfully penetrated Wakanda, stealing much of its vibranium, an indestructible metal, the same material that Captain America’s shield is made from.
When T’Challa learns that Klaue is in South Korea, meeting a buyer for his shipment of vibranium, he, his lover Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o), and the General of his army Okoye (Danai Gurira), head out to intercept him and after an exciting car chase, he finally apprehends him and plans to take him back to Wakanda to stand trial for his crimes. Here, T’Challa meets Everett Ross (Martin Freeman), a CIA operative who has been after Klaue for a very long time but when Erik unexpectedly turns up to break Klaue out of jail, in the ensuing gunfire, Ross saves Nakia’s life by taking a bullet for her. Realizing that Ross won’t survive without their help, T’Challa insists on bringing him back to Wakanda where their advanced technology will help save him. Later, Erik appears in Wakanda, carrying the dead body of Klaue as a token and because he is of royal blood, he challenges T’Challa for his throne and because of Wakanda law, he has no choice but to accept. After a brutal fight, Erik gets the upper hand and throws T’Challa’s body over a cliff and with Erik crowned the King of Wakanda, Nakia, Okoye, Ross, and T’Challa’s mother, Queen Ramonda (Angela Bassett), flee the city and head for the mountains where they plan on teaming up with an old rival tribe but when they arrive, they discover T’Challa is alive but in a coma. With the help of a magical heart-shaped herb that gives him the powers of the Black Panther, he must face off against Erik one last time and take back what is rightfully his.
The majority of the film takes place in the fictional East African nation of Wakanda and it makes for a nice change of scenery as most of Marvel’s previous outings include New York City, New Mexico, Washington D.C., as well as other countries around Europe. Chadwick Boseman embodies “Black Panther” with an intensity and fervency to always want to do the right thing, even when everyone else around him feels the need to question his decisions. He is the perfect partner for Captain America and when “Avengers: Infinity War” comes out later this year, we will see both men stand side by side. While the movie looks spectacular, and the acting by all involved is first class, it still feels very much like an outsider where the MCU is concerned. And I put that down to its setting. We are so accustomed to seeing big screen superhero movies take place on strange worlds, or in major cities across the U.S. and the world in general, seeing one take place surrounded by mostly third world nations takes some getting used to. Granted, once you are inside Wakanda, it is a bustling and flourishing place, filled with vibrant colors and decoration but its bordering regions still loom in the background. I’m sure the film will make a ton of money at the box office and as we see more “Black Panther” adventures, its locale will gradually become insignificant to the overall plot and allow us to concentrate on the story at hand.
In theaters Friday, February 16th