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The film picks up after the events of Captain America: Civil War, with T'Challa returning to Wakanda to take the throne left vacant by his now deceased father. Wakanda is a secretive nation, technologically advanced but hidden from the outside world. But trouble comes in the form of arms dealer Ulysses Klaue and the mysterious Kilmonger, whose connection to T'Challa forms the narrative arc of the movie.
There is a lot to love about the latest Marvel film. Stylistically it is superior to most, with a detailed art design that feels genuinely new, an approachable Afrofutirst sci-fi crafted in the image of a superhero movie. The film looks gorgeous, beautifully lensed by Rachel Morrison (the first Oscar nominated female cinematographer). There is an urgency to Black Panther that has felt lacking from the Marvel Cinematic Universe in recent years, a modernity that is the film's great strength. The decision to set the film mostly in Wakanda pays off, with proceedings freed from the more absurd contradictions that would have come about if this had played more like Thor, a partial fish-out-of-water comedy. That doesn't mean there isn't a globetrotting vibe, and there is a great extended sequence in Busan, complete with the film's best action sequence.
This is one of Marvel's strongest ensembles to date. So strong, in fact, that Chadwick Boseman's lead makes far less impact then expected. But he is an effective hero, handling the humour, action and more dramatic moments well. It's just that much of what is around him is so very good. There are strong supporting turns from Winston Duke and Daniel Kaluuya, each displaying a surprising complexity to their parts, while Andy Serkis (returning from the second Avengers film) is a hoot in a villainous role. But a quadrant of actors truly stand out. Lupita Nyong'o makes a spiky and unpredictable love interest, Letitia Wright is infectiously charming as T'Challa's sister, and Danai Gurira is wonderfully fierce, dominating the action scenes she is in. Yet the standout for me is Michael B. Jordan, whose Kilmonger is the best Marvel villain I can remember. An effective motivation, a clearly defined character arc and a confident, swaggering performance from the actor means he steals most of his scenes.
It is impressive that this is only director Ryan Coogler's third film, his confidence behind the camera manifesting on screen. There is a vision here that manages to break free of the restraints of the genre the film inhabits. This is aided by a terrific cast, including fully-formed female characters and one of the best villains in recent years. This is not a film that reinvents the wheel, but is most impressive because it opens up Western superheroes to include far more of the population than before, and the film is as pioneering as last year's Wonder Woman. And, most importantly, Black Panther is heaps of fun, a great action blockbuster.