Effortlessly blending thrilling comic book action with a thoughtful meditation on real-world geopolitics, Black Panther is one of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s best films and yet another winner from director Ryan Coogler.

STORY

Following the events of Captain America: Civil War, T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) returns home to the wealthy African nation of Wakanda to assume his place as its new king. But challenges to his rule arise as new enemies, both foreign and domestic, emerge — including one named Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan), a violent young man with a surprising past.

DIRECTION

Coogler, who also co-wrote the movie with Joe Robert Cole, has already proven himself to be a great young filmmaker with movies like Fruitvale Station and Creed. Black Panther follows in that tradition, telling a story of fathers, sons, and legacies while adding a tumultuous political backdrop. Wakanda is a nation under change, one figuring out how to retain its own identity and heritage in an increasingly globalized world it’s not sure it really wants (or needs) to be a part of. While the exotic settings and production values obviously help distinguish the movie from the rest of the MCU, it’s these subtextual additions, which Coogler embeds so well, that really make Black Panther the most distinctive MCU entry since the first Guardians of the Galaxy. It’s been a while since we saw an MCU movie that had this much on its mind — maybe since Civil War.

ACTING

Boseman is a solid T’Challa. Maybe a little too reserved, especially compared to some of his co-stars, but he possesses the gravitas and chops to make T’Challa believable as the leader of a nation. Jordan, working with Coogler for a third time, blows everyone off the screen everytime he shows up. Killmonger is arguably the strongest villain the MCU has produced yet, and Jordan gives it his all.

Lupita Nyong’o, as spy and T’Challa’s ex-girlfriend Nakia, is also good, and has great chemistry with Boseman. As fighter Okoye and T’Challa’s sister Shuri, Danai Gurira and Letitia Wright are also great, as is Angela Bassett as T’Challa’s mother. Martin Freeman and Andy Serkis (nice to see Bilbo and Gollum back together) are great, especially the former, while Forest Whitaker is fine in a thankless role. Recent Oscar-nominee Daniel Kaluuya has some nice scenes, too.

EVERYTHING ELSE

Costumes are gorgeous, as is production design for the most part; street-level Wakanda looks an awful lot like Sakkar, and an early sequence set in a casino strongly recalls Skyfall in decor and John Wick‘s nightclub bloodbath in, well, other ways. You’ll see.

Rachel Morrisson (current Oscar nominee for Best Cinematography for Mudbound) works wonders with the camera, and the score by Ludwig Göransson is easily the most distinctive MCU score since Captain America: The First Avenger. The movie feels a little long but not to any devastating extent.

POST-CREDITS [NO SPOILERS]: two scenes — one, which honestly should’ve been left in the movie, features T’Challa addressing the UN; second, at the very end, which is a nice-but-inconsequential little addendum to Civil War. If that second one does anything to set up Infinity War, I honestly don’t know what.

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