This review is spoiler-free.
Black Panther is not only an important movie culturally, but it's also thrilling, dramatic, and gorgeous in a way we don't get to see very often in action movies.
Director: Ryan Coogler
Summary: T'Challa, after the death of his father, the King of Wakanda, returns home to the isolated, technologically advanced African nation to succeed to the throne and take his rightful place as king.
Black Panther is a movie carrying the weight of expectations on it. The first black solo hero in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, bringing an African character to the big screen and doing it justice, a cast and crew that is primarily people of color, and yet the movie carries this weight like it isn't a big deal. However, to say that Ryan Coogler makes this look effortless is doing a disservice to sheer amount of love and work that was put into building this world.
Wakanda is beautifully realized in a way that we don't get to see often in movies like this. At moments, Asgard and sometimes the worlds in Guardians of the Galaxy don't feel "lived in". You look at these people and nothing about living there seem real or even comfortable. Wakanda, however, feels like something that people could live in. The moments in the city where we see the bustling streets feel real even if there are other times when it can feel a little empty.
The entire cast brings their A-game — there isn't a weak link in the bunch. We all knew that Chadwick Boseman was a commanding presence after Captain America: Civil War, but he is fantastic here as well. He carries himself like a king and is physical in a way that says he is immediately dangerous. Lupita Nyong'o is the spy Nakia, who is basically female James Bond for the Marvel universe with better fighting skills (and outfits). Letitia Wright steals every scene she's in as T'Challa's sister Shuri, Danai Gurira is immediately commanding as the general Okoye, and Daniel Kaluuya as W'Kabi takes on a very different but very interesting role.
The villains really shine in this one, and it's about time. Andy Serkis is clearly having a ball as Ulysses Klaue, but it's Michael B. Jordan as Erik Killmonger who raises the bar for villains everywhere. He isn't wrong; in fact, he's more right. Even if his methods are a bit too extreme, you immediately understand why he's so angry. It's hard to make a villain who is covered in scars — each one for a life he's taken — sympathetic, but this movie does it.
There are a few issues here and there, but they aren't deal breakers by any stretch of the word. The pacing is a little off, and while the movie doesn't feel long, the kids in the audience could start to get a little antsy. The fact that we know T'Challa survives renders a late-movie plot point a little moot, but there's nothing we can do about that. There is some dodgy CGI, but it's brief and isn't too distracting. Those nitpicks don't really matter in the end, because what this movie is going to mean for people; how it's going to expand our culture; how it's going to change lives; all of that is so much more important than a few small problems here and there.
Black Panther had high expectations to meet and carried them easily. There might be a few hiccups, but everything else works so well that it's easy to let them slip by. This one is going to be important not just for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but moviemaking and film culture itself. Wakanda Forever.