It's crazy to think how far the Marvel Cinematic Universe has come since the release of Captian America: Civil War way back in 2016. Movies like Doctor Strange and Thor: Ragnarok have pushed the boundaries of what these movies can be and heavy hitters like Spider-Man and now the X-Men have been added to the roster.
At the time, when T'Challa made his first impression in Civil War, the landscape of superhero movies was just setting in and there may have never been a better time to introduce audiences to Black Panther.
He was one of the highlights of Civil War, his physical ability, the costume and his story were all enticing and audiences, myself included, were already counting down the days until he would get his own movie.
Marvel spent the last few years building up Black Panther, they went out and got Ryan Coogler, one of if not the premiere young African American directors working today and teamed Coogler with frequent collaborator Michael B. Jordan to play villain opposite Chadwick Boseman who obviously reprises his role from Civil War.
That is not where the name dropping ends, Black Panther's cast is stacked with talent both new and experienced. From Oscar winners like Forrest Whittaker and Lupita Nyong'o to nominees like Angela Bassett and Daniel Kaluuya to just great actors like Andy Serkis, Martin Freeman and Danai Gurira. The cast of Black Panther is pound for pound one of the strongest in the Marvel cannon.
So Marvel did a great job putting the pieces together, getting Kendrick Lamar to handle the soundtrack helps out quite a bit too, but we have seen movies with more going for it that have ended up badly. Black Panther is not a movie existing in a vacuum, as a part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe it will be compared to the last few outings, and that is some stiff competition.
Before we go any further I want to quickly set the scene, the events of Black Panther take place shortly after the events of Captain America: Civil War, with T'Challa returning to his home of Wakanda to take his place as king of the hidden city after the death of his father.
Wakanda, believed to be a fairly impoverished third world country in Africa is actually the worlds most technologically advanced city because of a meteor that crashed there generations ago containing vibranium, the strongest metal known to mankind. Wakandians for years have kept the truth about their city secret for fear that the vast amounts of vibranium deposits would be exploited and used for evil.
While the exchange of power from father to son goes relatively smoothly, some people in Wakanda believed that T'Challa's father, T'Chaka was too passive when it came to outreach and using Wakanda's superior technology to take a larger role in the world, and some in the kingdom believe T'Challa will follow in his fathers footsteps leading to a bit of unspoken strife.
I have to admit I was a bit confused by the exact timeline at the beginning of the movie. To be fair it has been a while since I watched Civil War but it felt like the continuity was a bit off. I can understand Coogler not wanting someones else's movie to heavily effect the story he wants to tell, but that is what you get when you join the Marvel machine, just ask Edgar Wright.
That brings me to a point that I think may be a big positive for fans who have become a bit overwhelmed with the greater scope of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but also may be missing out on the best part of the universe, and that is Black Panther is pretty isolated from the rest of the Marvel movies.
Other than literally the first scene or two, I don't think there is any mention of any of there other heroes in the roster. As I said above, this is not necessarily a bad thing, the biggest complaint I hear from people about the Marvel movies is that there are just too many of them and once you get behind a few it can be hard to catch up. While there is something inherently attractive about seeing Doctor Strange show up in a Thor movie, it is also nice to take a break from the greater story and take time to tell a more compact one.
This means that Coogler along with his co-writer Joe Robert Cole get to tell a story that can stand alone without much baggage, but don't get to take advantage of the impressive world that Marvel has created. Instead the writers look to the future a bit and use Black Panther's best quality other then it's cast to connect it to the larger story, its setting.
Wakanda and the lore surrounding it, from the history of the Black Panthers that came before T'Challa to it's different tribes and lifestyles, is the most refreshing change of scenery in a Marvel movie since Doctor Strange.
The amount of time that we spend in the actual city is pretty limited, and for the most part the locations are ripe with CGI, the sheer importance of Wakanda looking forward is obvious. The advanced technology and vast amount of vibranium will be essential when the events of Infinity War come around and will help to add a new element to the Avengers movies.
While Coogler and Cole knocked the setting and tone out of the park, their plot and general writing is another story. They lean too hard on the setting and characters and struggle to get a solid plot through the whole movie. There are scenes that easily could have been omitted, too much exposition even for a Marvel movie and muddy motivations for more than one character.
This may just be a bit of a hangover from the perfectly paced Thor: Ragnarok but these are the types of movies that Black Panther will be compared to. Where Thor was brilliantly able to tell a full story with little fluff and some great character stuff Black Panther just can't compete.
Black Panther also was a bit behind in the visual combat and I felt left something to be desired when it comes to showing off the power of the character. We have been over saturated recently with action movies that usually include someone with some sort of special ability or power suit. This means the action in these movies has both been kicked up a notch and become more and more the norm form movie to movie.
Black Panther struggles to stand up to movies like Ragnarok or Civil War in this category but to be fair both of those movies, more specifically the latter, have some of the most memorable action set pieces in recent memory, and I really can't see anything in Black Panther even coming close.
Now for a quick nit-pick before I wrap this thing up, but I was really disappointed with the overall coolness of the Black Panther in comparison to how he was used in Civil War. In that movie he was not only formidable, but it felt like there were so many cool avenues to go down regarding stealth and the speed of the character.
We don't really get much of that here. For the most part T'Challa is either fighting without the suit on, riding on top of cars (which we already saw done better in Civil War) or just taking part in advanced hand to hand combat. I was really hoping to see some great prowler stuff where he is stalking a bad guy, quickly dashing from shadow to shadow before he pounces, or maybe some cool jungle movement stuff. I was desperately waiting for a scene with him using that insane speed from Civil War in a jungle setting, but that scene never came.
Look, Black Panther has some pretty stiff competition in the genre and almost exclusively with movies in it's shared universe. The quality of the these Marvel movies is so high for the most part that it makes it so hard for the more average ones stand out.
There is a long list of pretty long list of good Marvel movies that have been sort of overlooked because of the hugely successful and in certain cases truly fantastic movies. Spider-Man: Homecoming, Doctor Strange, Ant-Man, Guardians 2 all fall into this category of solid movies that just can't break the high ceiling set by movies like The Avengers, Guardians of the Galaxy, Ragnarok and the last 2 Captain America movies.
Black Panther falls into the middling category for me, not a top Marvel movie but a solid contribution. For people that maybe don't see many if any of the Marvel movies this may be a knockout, but when placed on the scale with the best of the best, Black Panther has some steps to take, but just look at the Captain America series for some assurance and hope that Coogler and Co. come back for round 2.