Black Panther - it packs a social punch
So the carbon test for any superhero film that sits within any extended universe is: how well does it stand up on its own? Will casual viewers who may not have seen the whole series of films making up that same extended universe understand what is going on? Will they be able to follow it? Essentially, is it self-contained in the way that last years Wonder Woman was? I'm glad to say that Black Panther passes all those tests.
Let's talk about plot and enjoyability before we discuss the social issues the film raises.
In this, the latest installment of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) we are off to Wakanda, somewhere in Central Africa. It's hidden from the rest of the world and exists as a technological marvel from its use of Vibranium. We first met the King of Wakanda and his son in Captain America: Civil War. Black Panther starts with the inauguration of T'Challa (Chadwick Boseman) as King. All does not go smoothly and it turns into an episode of Game of Thrones with a secondary plot whereby Andy Serkis plays a villainous caricature trying to steal vibranium. T'Challa is eventually crowned king and becomes Black Panther protecting his kingdom but not all goes well as a family secret from the past threatens his throne and the kingdom. Martin Freeman stars as a CIA agent who is entwined in the plots.
Black Panther has a start, middle and end. It has its own plots that it resolves itself and as such is very much a self-contained film that does not rely on any knowledge of the extended MCU. Because of this and because of the strong cast featuring, along with Boseman and Freeman; Michael B Jordan, Lupita Nyong'o, Angela Bassett and Forrest Whitaker, it rises above the mediocre. All performances are strong.
The film has had a lot of comments on its social impact. It is fantastic to see an almost entirely black cast carrying this blockbuster. It seems incredible that it has taken until 2018 for this to happen. The message it positive. There are some pointed jibes at white colonialism and other white privileges. They land well and one or two made this reviewer a tad uncomfortable because they are true.
A thoroughly enjoyable popcorn film and a great addition to the MCU.