Marvel movies are designed to hew to convention, the better to allow them to seamlessly fit together into the larger tapestry of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Still, within their stand-alone confines, they afford some room for artistic risk-taking, as is evidenced by Black Panther, Ryan Coogler’s blockbuster about the war for fictional African nation Wakanda.
On one side of that conflict is Chadwick Boseman’s noble King T’Challa (aka Black Panther), who believes that protecting his people is best achieved by hiding them from the outside world. And on the other side is Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan), a violent challenger to the throne who wants to use his homeland’s technological might to stage an oppression-upending global revolution.
Underscored by such weighty hot-button themes, Coogler’s material is enlivened by eye-popping production design and captivating performances, in particular from Jordan, whose antagonist proves the finest superhero villain since the late Heath Ledger’s Clown Prince of Crime. It’s a distinctly African-American comic-book epic with universal appeal.