By Travis J. Klemann
The eighteenth entry into the Marvel Cinematic Universe wonderfully blends together science fiction and political commentary for an adventurous yet serious take on the superhero genre. Director Ryan Coogler fantastically leads an ensemble cast in this cinematic journey of the fictional African nation of Wakanda for a trip lasting 134 minutes.
A brief backstory of Wakanda reveals the origin of the technologically advanced African nation due to the crash of a meteor containing vibranium. The introduction is followed by a flashback of a murder from 1992 in Oakland, California which drastically affects the future throne.
In present day Africa, T'Challa (Chadwick Boseman) extracts Nakia (Lupita Nyong'o) from an undercover assignment in order for her to attend his coronation ceremony as the new king of Wakanda. At the ceremony, T'Challa is challenged by M'Baku (Winston Duke) of the Jabari Tribe in ritual combat for the throne. T'Challa persuades M'Baku to yield rather than die as his people need their leader.
A Wakandan artifact is stolen from a museum in London by Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis) and Erik Stevens (Michael B. Jordan) along with a couple accomplices. This leads the trio of T'Challa, Nakia and Okoye (Danai Gurira) to South Korea to prevent the sale between Klaue and CIA agent Everett K. Ross (Martin Freeman). After a memorable interrogation scene, Erik Stevens -AKA- Killmonger breaks Klaue free only to kill him later.
While T'Challa brings Ross to Wakanda to heal his wounds from the recent attack, Killmonger also makes his way to the hidden kingdom with the body of Ulysses Klaue. In the presence of the tribal elders, Killmonger reveals his birth name and claim to the throne, then issues a challenge to T'Challa for ritual combat. At the conclusion of the battle, Killmonger hurls T'Challa over the waterfall, then ingests the heart-shaped herb to gain the powers of the Black Panther.
Nakia, Shuri, Ramonda and Ross flee to the Jabari Tribe where they discover their fallen king is in fact alive despite being comatose. Ramonda prepares the herb Nakia procured before Killmonger burned the rest in order to prevent being replaced by another king.
A revitalized T'Challa returns to continue his fight with Killmonger. On an open battlefield, war breaks out between the Dora Milaje led by Okoye and the Border Tribe led by W'Kabi (Daniel Kaluuya) while Ross remotely pilots a jet to shoot down planes transporting vibranium weapons to the Wakandan spies. The clash between both Black Panthers ends with T'Challa stabbing Killmonger and an emotional shot as the sun sets.
T'Challa announces his plans to build an outreach center in Oakland which will be run by Nakia and Shuri. The king of Wakanda reveals his country's true nature as a technologically advanced region to the United Nations as the terrifically tantalizing tale comes to its end.
This is a tremendous superhero film that incorporates two opposing political stances - war and peace. I also appreciated the use of some historical context behind the antagonist's motivations. Also, in typical MCU fashion, the villain managed to create division among the heroes albeit briefly during the battlefield scene.
5/5 Stars - Extremely Recommended
PS: As it may be quite noticeable, the plot of the film somewhat mirrors that of The Lion King which is also a Disney production. I don't fault the soon-to-be conglomerate from wanting to retell their most successful and beloved tale in a different version ahead of the release of their live-action adaptation. It's just a smart business decision and who doesn't love a story that reminds them of a classic? (Example: Avatar -- Pocahontas)