Unless you live off the grid—in which case, you aren’t reading this—you probably know that Black Panther, Disney’s latest Marvel outing, is a watershed moment in cinematic history. It’s the first Marvel superhero movie with a primarily black cast and black director, Ryan Coogler, who is the first African-American to helm a $200 million project. Even better, it’s as good as early reviews reveal.
T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) is the crown prince of Wakanda, a small country in the heart of Africa that escaped the ravages of colonialism to become the most technologically advanced country in the world—though the world thinks of it as one of the poorest nations. (This seemingly absurd premise is explained quite nicely in the first five minutes.)
After his father T’Chaka (John Kani) dies in Captain America: Civil War, T’Challa returns to Wakanda to take his place as king—and to continue as Black Panther, protector of his people. His superpowers are bestowed by a potion derived from a glowing plant that grows within the mountain, and his form-fitting, bulletproof suit is a technological wonder created by his genius sister Shuri (Letitia Wright)—sort of a Q-like character to T’Challa’s James Bond.
Of course, there are bad guys to fight, including evil arms dealer Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis) and angry black militant Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan). Other important characters include T’Challa’s and Shuri’s mother Ramonda (Angela Bassett), T’Challa’s ex-girlfriend Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o), Wakanda’s military general Okoye (Danai Gurira), CIA agent Everett Ross (Martin Freeman), and holy man Zuri (Forest Whitaker). And as always, Marvel co-creator Stan Lee makes a cameo appearance.
Black Panther is wonderful on many levels. Sure, there’s lots of fighting and a few epic battles, but it goes much deeper than that. Loyalty to tribe versus country, isolationism versus world community, and righteous anger versus revenge for centuries of racial oppression are just some of the themes explored here. Also, African culture is not appropriated but celebrated with great respect. And, as with all Marvel superhero movies, there’s a healthy dose of humor.
All the actors do a terrific job portraying nuanced, complex characters, and the female characters are strong and independent. In fact, the kingdom’s elite military force consists entirely of women! Andy Serkis’ performance as Ulysses Klaue is especially noteworthy; you might remember him from Avengers: Age of Ultron. He’s the same wisecracking, deliciously sinister South African, now with a vibranium cannon replacing the arm he lost when Ultron chopped it off in a fit of rage. And Michael B. Jordan’s Killmonger is a powerful mix of grief and anger.
In my local Dolby Cinema, the Dolby Vision high dynamic-range presentation was among the best I’ve seen to date. There are many very dark scenes, some with bright highlights, and they are all breathtaking. For example, in a couple of shots, someone slowly emerges out of a cave, and the appearance of their face coming out of the blackness is startling. Overall, the image really pops out of that super-deep black level, and the rich, vibrant colors are a feast for the eyes.
Likewise, the Dolby Atmos soundtrack is stunning. As in most superhero movies, there’s lots of activity in the surround and overhead speakers as things fly around. Also, the superb score by Ludwig Goransson—which includes many African instruments and thematic elements—and songs by Kendrick Lamar are mixed well into the room.
The overall volume was slightly below reference level: Leq (average RMS level over the entire length of the movie plus trailers) = 95.1 dBZ (flat), 83.2 dBA, 93.4 dBC; Lmax (maximum 1-second RMS level) = 119.9 dBZ; L10 (level exceeded 10% of the time) = 98.1 dBZ; L50 (level exceeded 50% of the time) = 82.0 dBZ. I only felt the need to briefly plug my ears a couple of times.
Black Panther gets my highest recommendation. It’s fun, exciting, funny, and thought-provoking as few superhero movies are. It takes up where Captain America: Civil War left off, bringing back the characters of T’Challa, T’Chaka, Everett Ross, and warrior Ayo (Florence Kasumba) in a solo turn that does the Marvel Cinematic Universe proud. Fortunately, the movie stands on its own; there’s no need to have seen Civil War before Black Panther.
I strongly recommend that you see it in a Dolby Cinema if there’s one near you—for a list of locations, click here. The Dolby Vision imagery and Atmos sound are spectacular and well worth a few extra bucks. And by all means, stay through the end of the credits, when there’s a bit of a setup for the next Marvel adventure, Avengers: Infinity War, with one of the other characters from Captain America: Civil War.
Check out the trailer for Black Panther:
We are committed to finding, researching, and recommending the best products. We earn commissions from purchases you make using the retail links in our product reviews. Learn more about how this works here.