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Black Panther review - not bad as a standalone, but struggles to find its place in the franchise

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Black Panther is the 18th film in the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe), and is the final release before Avengers: Infinity War in May, which will be the culmination of a decade of films and will feature over 60 recurring characters from the franchise.

That, as well as it being the first Marvel film to have an almost exclusively black cast, with a star-studded ensemble that includes the likes of Michael B. Jordan (Creed), Danai Gurira (The Walking Dead), Daniel Kaluuya (Get Out), and Oscar winners Lupita Nyong’o and Forest Whitaker, means Black Panther was one of the most highly anticipated movies of the year, selling more pre-book tickets than any other Marvel release.

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With such a talented cast, it’s not surprising that they all give brilliant performances. Women also have a much more important role than in previous movies; all of T’Challa’s bodyguards are women who are also incredible warriors.

The character of Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) was introduced in Captain America: Civil War, and the movie is set after these events, as T’Challa returns home in to secret, isolated African nation of Wakanda.To the rest of the world, Wakanda appears as a poor, third world country, when in reality this is a disguise: the country is built on Vibranium, the most valuable metal in the world, and uses it as the base of a huge, technologically advanced nation.

The customs of Wakanda are a contrasting mix of tribal traditions and futuristic gadgets, accompanied by a soundtrack consisting of African drums superimposed on modern rap. T’Challa’s sister Shuri (Letitia Wright, Black Mirror) acts like James Bond’s Q, researching and developing new gadgets for T’Challa to use, including an improved suit. Black Panther does not have much humour compared to other Marvel movies, but Shuri delivers some appreciated comic relief.

However, if you’re hoping for lots of MCU cameos, prepare to be disappointed. Of course Stan Lee makes one of his famous appearances, but other than that, the only recognisable character to show up is probably the most boring: Everett K. Ross (Martin Freeman), a CIA agent who was introduced in Civil War. Martin Freeman does a terrible impression of an American accent, and it seems like a bad idea to highlight this in giving him a larger role. Additionally, his character has no superpowers, so teaming up with him isn’t very interesting.

You would think that right before Infinity War, the studio would want to advertise more MCU characters but, on the other hand, Captain America turning up would probably steer away all the attention. Black Panther is the first Marvel film set on Earth to be based in a country other than the USA, and because of this isolation it doesn’t fit in with the franchise so well. It does, however, allow for a more diverse environment which is put together both with brilliant special effects and detailed tribal costumes.

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While T’Challa has typical superhero qualities such as a high moral standing, he doesn’t exactly have ‘powers’; every King of Wakanda receives the blessing of the ‘Black Panther’, abilities which are consumed via the liquid of a special flower, and can be taken away just as easily.

This means that T’Challa is not unique in his abilities, like most heroes, nor are they a part of him like, say, Iron Man. All this ‘potion’ of sorts gives him is enhanced strength and healing powers, which is also not that interesting. In addition, when he is challenged as king in what is essentially a Game of Thrones style trial by combat, his powers are taken away, meaning it is stripped down to a fist and knife fight.

As viewers of superhero movies, this is not necessarily what we want to see. We expect huge action sequences with CGI superpowers and awesome showdowns. The closest Black Panther gets to this is a car chase in South Korea, where Shuri remotely drives a car from her lab back in Wakanda.

It’s a new take on a usually cliché Hollywood sequence, and it’s done very well. While in South Korea we also see Okoye make fun of American fashion and, in one of the film's best moments, she uses her wig as a weapon, while Nakia slashes with her high heels.

Black Panther as a standalone movie is not bad, but as a Marvel movie it’s not the best. The good news is, the studio is taking a step in the right direction towards diversity (and after 10 years, it damn well should). The popularity of this film proves just how badly viewers have been waiting for this. Now, where's my Black Widow movie?

There are two post-credit scenes, so stick around till the end to see a brief glimpse of a character that easily could’ve taken on Freeman’s role, and been much better at it.

 

Black Panther is in cinemas now, distributed by The Walt Disney Studios.

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