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The future of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is in Wakanda.
Reviews are in for Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther, and they are easily the best for a Marvel Studios project to date, with almost everyone left in awe not only of the movie’s ambition, but its success in achieving that ambition on the big screen. As of Wednesday evening, the film has a 99 percent score on Rotten Tomatoes with just one “rotten” review out of 76.
“There’s no mistaking you’re still in the Marvel universe here, but this entry sweeps you off to a part of it you’ve never seen: a hidden lost world in Africa defined by royal traditions and technological wonders that open up refreshing new dramatic, visual and casting possibilities,” writes The Hollywood Reporter’s Todd McCarthy in his review. “There are vistas, costumes and settings that keep the images popping off the screen, even though this Marvel offering is not in 3D.”
“It’s as if everyone enlisted to bring the project to life understood the magnitude of what Black Panther, the first comic-based studio movie with a black hero at the center since 1998’s Blade, would represent,” critic and writer Marc Bernardin wrote for Nerdist. “The chance to fill every corner of their fictional Wakanda with the same level of craft and detail usually reserved for British-star-studded period pieces. An opportunity to tell a story about black lives, which matter and are not defined by their pain but, instead, by their glory. An answer to a culture’s question, ‘When will it be our time in the sun?’”
Rolling Stone’s Peter Travers agreed, calling the movie “an epic that doesn’t walk, talk or kick ass like any other Marvel movie — an exhilarating triumph on every level from writing, directing, acting, production design, costumes, music, special effects to you name it. For children (and adults) of color who have longed forever to see a superhero who looks like them, Marvel’s first black-superhero film is an answered prayer, a landmark adventure and a new film classic.”
And yet, argued Empire’s Jimi Famurewa, the movie is more than merely a milestone. “[O]ne of Black Panther’s greatest triumphs is to make you forget the barrier-breaking significance of its mere existence,” he wrote. “By the time the climactic battle has broken out — set a world away from the customary razed metropolis of modern comic-book films — you’re too busy marveling at its bottomless invention, its big-hearted verve, to truly consider the game-changing revolution playing out in front of you.”
That’s something that is picked up by The Verge’s Bryan Bishop: “Not only is [the movie] a long-overdue embrace of diversity and representation, it’s a film that actually has something to say — and it’s able to do so without stepping away from the superhero dynamics that make the larger franchise work. It’s gripping, funny and full of spectacle, but it also feels like a turning point, one where the studio has finally recognized that its movies can be about more than just selling the next installment.”
Repeatedly praised in reviews is the script by Coogler and American Crime Story’s Joe Robert Cole. “[T]he screenplay does a remarkable job of not only ticking off all the Marvel boxes of action, disarming humor and romance, but balances dozens of characters and their emotional arcs while weaving in great layers of moral and political clash and confrontation,” according to The Playlist’s Rodrigo Perez, who added, “Black Panther packs so much in and yet never feels overstuffed.”
The New York Times‘ Manohla Dargis praised Coogler for his acting scenes but noted his “directing strengths are more intimate,” writing: “There are sequences in Black Panther that may make you cry because of where they go and what they say, but also because of the sensitivity he brings to them. He makes some savvy story choices too.”
The Los Angeles Times‘ Kenneth Turan compared Coogler to another filmmaker whose work transcended the superhero genre: “Like Christopher Nolan, who was 35 when he reanimated the Batman franchise, the 31-year-old Coogler has a gift for putting his own spin on genre, for making popular culture worlds his own.”
The cast is also receiving a lot of praise, even beyond Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan and the other leads.
“Even if they’re playing a smaller role, [Coogler] gives their character an arc and a point of view,” Vox’s Todd VanDerWerff wrote about the way the director treats the actors. “Black Panther is a political movie, in the sense that much of it centers on questions of political succession in Wakanda, and that means everybody in the cast has to have a perspective on the question of how Wakanda should deal with both its succession problem and its relations to the outside world. That the actors all have story arcs to play makes their work all the more substantial.”
Interestingly enough, multiple critics were so taken by the movie that they have already started worrying about where the character will be pushed in future movies, outside of Coogler’s oversight. “The mix of Afrocentrism, feminism, and high-tech gadgetry is irresistible. Black Panther’s team is so wonderful that I hate to think of it being dulled by the mostly white-bread Avengers,” wrote Vulture’s David Edelstein, while The Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw had similar concerns: “Does Black Panther get to be another subordinate bit-part player in future Marvel ensemble movies? I hope not: I want stories where Black Panther takes on people outside Wakanda and I hope that Nakia gets a movie of her own. The intriguing thing about Black Panther is that it doesn’t look like a superhero film — more a wide-eyed fantasy romance: exciting, subversive and funny.”
Perhaps the best summation of the potential of Black Panther comes from GQ’s Olive Pometsey. “This film is more than an exercise in diversity for Hollywood, it’s a lesson on how to recover and move forward from society’s mistakes,” she suggested. “Black Panther isn’t just levelling out representation in Hollywood, it’s inspiring the next generation of real-life heroes, and that’s what makes this film truly magnificent.”
Black Panther opens Feb. 16.
Feb. 7, 5:31 p.m. Updated to reflect that Black Panther no longer has a 100 percent Rotten Tomatoes score.
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