T'Challa (Chadwick Boseman), who lost his father in Captain America: Civil War, is next in line for the throne of the isolationist nation of Wakanda. His ascent is marked by physical challenges (ritual combat) as well as increasing pressure against tradition, notably by his ex, the spy Nakia (Lupita Nyong'o), who argues that Wakanda's immense power should be used for good, rather than hidden from the world. Meanwhile, Ulysess Klaue (Andy Serkis), a ballsy thief and the only person who knows about Wakanda's reserves of the invaluable metal vibranium, pops up on the radar of General Okoye (Danai Gurira). T'Challa, Okoye, and Nakia set off in pursuit, which leads them to cross paths with the formidable Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan).
Speaking of formidable, Okoye kicks so much butt that she would easily be the MVP of this movie, if it weren't for the numerous other fabulous supporting characters. Nakia can throw down as well, but she also has a strong moral compass, and is interested in fighting for the oppressed rather than just against her nation's enemies. Shuri (Letitia Wright), T'Challa's younger sister, is a tech prodigy and the source of most of the film's humor ("WHAT ARE THOOOOOSE?" is a moment I would watch on loop). Finally, M'Baku (Winston Duke) is a scene stealer. And of course, Angela Bassett automatically makes every scene 100% better.
There are several impressive fights in Black Panther, all of which are driven by the story or the characters. My favorite is the final battle that pits Wakandans against each other, because that's when the Dora Milaje display their fluidity as a combat unit. Plus: armored rhinos!!! Vibranium capes!!! M'Baku!!! Okoye single-handedly stopping the nonsense!!! My least favorite fight is the heavily-CGI underground mano a mano between the Black Panther and Killmonger. It was hard to follow, and there was far less tension than the battle royale on the fields.
A minor digression--the chase scene (featured in the trailers) is significant not just for the inventive choreography and unexpected hilarity, but also because, according to my husband, it's when Black Panther passes the Bechdel test. I think that's true?
Anyway, as visionary as this film is, it still follows a familiar formula: the noble king triumphs against the hateful usurper. What makes this particular trope worth watching is the depth given to both hero and villain; it's made clear that Killmonger is motivated by a sense of thwarted justice, and his desire to use Wakanda to give power to the powerless is undermined by his methods. The final moment between the two rivals is both touching and inevitable.
In the end, Black Panther offers something new, both in-universe and to us in the audience: Wakanda, a black nation untarnished by colonialism. Its existence is realized onscreen with such beauty and reverence, and it's thanks to director Ryan Coogler, cinematographer Rachel Morrison, costume designer Ruth Carter, and production designer Hannah Beachler. In fact, the focus on Wakanda leads to my only teeny-tiny beef, which is that there's a musical cue for establishing shots of Wakanda instead of a soaring Black Panther theme (y'know, like Captain America and Iron Man have their own themes). Maybe that's on purpose? Unless--"Bagbak" is the Black Panther theme? If so, I withdraw my objection. Because "Bagbak" is dope.
TL;DR: Spectacular. Watch now.
This post brought to you by spring weather in February!