‘Black Panther’ Review
9 February 2018
“I have seen gods fly. I have seen men build weapons that I couldn’t even imagine. I have seen aliens drop from the sky. But I have never seen anything like this.” So mutters astonished C.I.A. agent Everett K. Ross (Martin Freeman) as he first sets eyes on the shrouded African country of Wakanda, a veritable El Dorado that mined a meteorite’s worth of vibranium to become the most technologically advanced nation on Earth, and the host country for the best Marvel movie so far, by far. He speaks for us all.
Nobody has ever seen anything like “Black Panther” — not just an entire civilization built from the metal stuff inside Captain America’s shield, and not even just a massive superhero movie populated almost entirely by black people, but also a Marvel film that actually feels like it takes place in the real world.
Over the course of three phases, 11 years, and 18 installments, Marvel has taken us everywhere from the Norse kingdom of Asgard, to a living planet called Ego, and a literally time-less void known as the Dark Dimension. And yet, those fantastical adventures are virtually indistinguishable from the episodes that are (mostly) set on Earth. Despite the fact that “Ant-Man” is rooted in San Francisco, “Spider-Man: Homecoming” is an ode to the bridge-and-tunnel crowd, and “The Avengers” climaxes with a “Battle of New York” that looks curiously like Cleveland, all of these films still feel like glimpses into a parallel universe made out of plastic — a bizarro alternate timeline (complete with its own 9/11) where everyone has been reverse-engineered from their own action figures.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe has proven itself to be exactly that, a self-contained snow globe that’s wrapped in spandex and lined with money. It has little sense of history beyond that which it’s created for itself; the moral imperatives that divide the Avengers tend to exist in a vacuum, while the colonialist undertones rumbling beneath “Thor: Ragnarok” are easy to miss for those who haven’t been conditioned to feel them.
“Black Panther” is different. It’s the first one of these films that flows with a genuine sense of culture and identity, memory and musicality. It’s the first one of these films that doesn’t merely reckon with power and subjugation in the abstract, but also gives those ideas actual weight by grafting them onto specific bodies and confronting the historical ways in which they’ve shaped our universe. Last, but certainly not least, it’s also the first black superhero movie since the dawn of the genre’s seemingly endless golden age (or at least since that one where Will Smith hurled a giant whale at a bunch of innocent sailors).