Black Panther is it’s most Shakespearean. Rather than stuttering and stumbling through the tropes of an origin story, Black Panther takes a hero of establishment and identity and rips the world he knows and loves out from under them. Yes, T’Challa is about to ascend to the throne, so this is a time of rising power, but he’s not lost — at least not until his world is upset by drama of the kind more commonly seen in Hamlet than in the superhero game.
When a whole mess of vibranium is stolen and Wakanda’s technological and financial might is at risk of being revealed to the world, T’Challa is forced into a reckoning with a new foe (the always wonderful Michael B. Jordan) — and with his own responsibilities as King. But it’s not just the insular and epic story that sets Black Panther apart from the rest of the increasingly connected MCU. It’s the entire mise en scene. It’s the sound. It’s the tone.
Here we are in mid-February and we’ve almost certainly see the costume work that will take home an Oscar in 2019. While it’s the attire that steals the gaze most frequently, everything in Wakanda is stunning, from the svelte tech to the unknowable savannah, it’s the kind of backdrop that’s usually lost to explosions and set pieces. Then there’s the sound, part score, part soundtrack and all of it punctuated by bursts Wakandan language and battle cries. Black Panther is a vision of tone and texture that eschews the trappings of typical superhero fair in favor of a largely interior drama that introduces a host of dynamic characters, each of them more interesting than the last. (Seriously, can we get Shuri and Okoye standalone spin-offs yesterday?!)
It may not be the single best movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but it is inarguably the most singular. If this is our welcome to Wakanda, I can’t wait to see what the return brings.
Director: Ryan Coogler
Writer: Ryan Coogler, Joe Robert Cole (written by), Stan Lee, Jack Kirby (based on the Marvel Comics by)
Runtime: 2h 14mins
Release date: Feb. 16, 2018
Main image credit: Matt Kennedy / Marvel Studios