Before even going into production there was a lot riding on the highly anticipated release of Black Panther.
Introduced in 2016’s Captain America: Civil War it was clear from the jump that Chadwick Boseman was the right fit to wear the crown as King T’Challa, ruler of Wakanda, and the cowl of the Black Panther.
This solo movie not only reinforces that statement but is also up there with the best Marvel Cinematic Universe movies to date in terms of content and quality. It also serves as a welcome – and much needed – vehicle for change and progression for Marvel.
Watch the trailer below:
As stated in the title Black Panther is Marvel and Disney's most socially-aware solo film since Civil War, it's also a landmark achievement for the studio due to the sum of its many parts.
Black Panther's story takes off nicely following the events of Civil War, King T'Challa has just laid his father to rest and now must assume the responsibilities of leading his nation into brave new world where a man can turn green, Norse Gods and magic exist, and alien armies seem to fall from the sky at will.
However, his leadership is soon contested by the film's main antagonist Erik Killmonger, played by a captivating Michael B. Jordan, and so the King of Wakanda must search deep within himself to find out what it means to be a benevolent and just ruler.
From the minute Black Panther kicks off the audience is thrown into the beautiful world of Wakanda, which is steeped in African culture and lore. Director Ryan Coogler shows his skill as he weaves a story of cultural identity and responsibility, as well as breathing life into a fictional nation plausible in the real world.
Furthermore, the conflict presented between T'Challa and Killmonger is as intriguing and poignant as Kenneth Branagh's effort in Thor, with Coogler showing his skills which were evident in his last directorial outting Creed. While there is a greater sense of seriousness in the film, it still manages to maintain the same charm and humour that's made the MCU such a success story.
It's also helped by the performances from the cast - Boseman and Jordan in particular are in fine form. Boseman's portrayal of the royal superhero was one of the many things which made Civil War so great and he continues his fine performance as the lead character. He's convincing as a leader who bears the responsibility of an entire nation on his shoulders but still clearly has a lot to learn about what it means to lead.
Jordan provides the perfect anthesis to Boseman, you sense his anger and pain behind his true motives making for not only one of the most interesting villains in the MCU but perhaps the best since Tom Hiddleston's Loki in Thor and the first Avengers film.
There's a certain pathos Jordan brings to the table as Killmonger, making the audiences sympathetic to his goals no matter how destructive. It's a testament to the chemistry Coogler and Jordan bring out of each other which has been evident since the two started working together in 2013's criminally overlooked Fruitvale Station.
Standout performances from Danai Gurira and Letitia Wright give the guys a run for their money. If you thought Gurira kicks ass as Michonne in The Walking Dead, you'll love her even more as Okoye, T'challa's steadfast no-nonsense elite guard general, and the closest thing to a mentor to T'Challa. Wright is brilliant as T'Challa's younger sister, Shrui, often adding humour and a sense of humanism to the film's overall grandeur.
Academy award winner Lupita Nyong'o shines as Nakia, while Okoye represents traditionalism, acting as the perfect counter-balance encouraging T'Challa to branch out and progress further than his father (played by John Kani) and his other royal predecessors.
The film does have its setbacks; more could be done with the talents of Andy Serkis (Ulysses Klaue) and Angela Basset (Wakanda's Queen Mother, Ramonda). That being said Forest Whitaker (Zuri), Martin Freeman (Everett K. Ross) and Get Out star Daniel Kaluuya (W'Kabi) are all fine in their roles. The integration scene between Serkis and Freeman is pretty cool as it offers a nod to their scene in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.
While the acting is near-perfect the action scenes - and there are quite a lot - are absolutely flawless, the car chase in South Korea is particularly exhilarating and one of the best looking in the collection of standalone MCU films.
Black Panther is one Marvel's most important films in terms of social awareness, while it provides an intelligent, thought-provoking and oft-times visceral commentary about heritage and tradition it's also accessible enough for a wide range of audiences to enjoy and embrace.
That being said I am really looking forward to seeing how they develop the story of T'Challa and the sprawling Mecca that is Wakanda in May's Avengers: Infinity War and further Black Panther sequels.
Black Panther is out now in cinemas across the UK, and in the US from February 16.