Black Panther transcends the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It is a blockbuster superhero epic, gloriously so; but reaches a level of sophistication and depth that is rarely seen in the genre. Writer/director Ryan Coogler (Fruitvale Station, Creed) touches many peaks with his masterpiece. Black Panther is a story of family, faith, and country; about challenging convention and becoming greater in the process. It is also one hundred percent, unabashedly African, a testament to a continent and its people. Every early reaction is true. Black Panther is the first great film of the year.

The story picks up directly after the events of Civil War. T'Challa (Chadwick Boseman) returns to the hidden country of Wakanda to be proclaimed king. He has been trained his entire life for this sacred duty. His mother (Angela Bassett), sister (Letitia Wright), and devoted bodyguard (Danai Gurira) have supreme faith in his leadership. He accepts the mantle, but is unsure of the direction his powerful homeland will take.

A long hidden adversary (Andy Serkis) emerges from the shadows. T'Challa must find this man and settle a debt for his father's honor. What he discovers is much more dangerous than he could have ever imagined. A new threat (Michael B. Jordan) challenges the Black Panther, Wakanda, and the safety of the free world. T'Challa must prove that he is worthy to be king.

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You will be captivated by Black Panther from the opening frame to the last. Ryan Coogler hits the ground running and never looks back. He opens with a riveting account of Wakandan history, why this small nation closed itself off, then explores the modern society with breathtaking detail. He embraces African culture with vibrancy and futuristic vision; setting the table for the massive conflict to come. These early scenes are vital. They allow the characters to exist in a world where they fully belong. It is top notch exposition, the deft hand of a brilliant writer and director.

Black Panther has T'Challa as the central character, but just like the sun; the supporting cast in his orbit is magnificent. Every female role in this film is well-defined. They are not eye-candy, damsels to be rescued, or screen fodder. Coogler's script gives them distinct personalities and duties. I can not honestly even think of an action film with so many integral female characters. Black Panther is being marketed as a "black" film, but I think it should also be recognized for gender equity. The women here kick major ass.

The biggest surprise of Black Panther is Michael B. Jordan. Are you sitting down for this? His Eric Killmonger is the BEST VILLAIN we have seen yet in the MCU. Jordan owns this film. He is damn good. We've gotten so used to cackling, cartoonish antagonists. You will be dumbstruck by Killmonger's calculated ruthlessness. This acclamation takes nothing away from star Chadwick Boseman. He's tremendous as the Black Panther, but his character is subdued and introspective by nature. Killmonger raises the bar for MCU baddies. Michael B. Jordan has been Ryan Coogler's muse from his first film. They continue to deliver greatness. Thanos has big shoes to fill.

Black Panther is another jewel in the crown of Producer Kevin Feige. Marvel Studios continues its streak of excellence. I'm still sweaty in the Black Panther afterglow, so won't make any comparisons or rankings. The most important message is that Ryan Coogler has made a benchmark film. Black Panther is perfect for this moment in time. It addresses the folly of division with heart and meaning. If that's not enough of a draw, just go for the action. You sure as hell won't be disappointed. There are two post credit scenes. Let the excitement build for Avengers: Infinity War.

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Julian Roman at Movieweb
Julian Roman