It was touch and go whether we'd even get to see Black Panther – what with snow storms, missing buses, moving house – and all, but I'm so glad we managed it (and in a small, art-house style cinema in east London no less!). The film absolutely stands up to the hype: it's absolutely beautiful, cleverly paced, with brilliant characters and a villain whose motives and actions are both clear and logical (from their perspective). Once again, the MCU ends up killing off an excellent character (two, in fact!) to resolve a story, but I think their hands were at least a little tied here.
Both Michael B Jordan and Chadwick Boseman are exceptional throughout, taking the MCU to a whole other level in terms of acting prowess, but their surrounding cast are far from just background noise. New characters like Nakia (Lupita Nyong'o), Okoye (Danai Gurira), and Shuri (Letitia Wright) slot in like they've always been around, with each having some brilliant moments (that car-chase spear throw!), whilst recurring characters like Everett Ross (Martin Freeman) and Klaue (Andy Serkis) fit the narrative well and bring some additional nuance to the story. Serkis, in particular, is a brilliant inclusion, with an even more maniacal Klaue than we've seen before (now with arm cannon!) who is such a joy to watch I was genuinely mad when they killed him off (even if it led to a clever plot point).
Speaking of plot, this feels so much tighter than your average MCU film. The villain's actions actually make sense based on his history and training, it directly addresses a number of both real-world and in-universe sociopolitical issues, and pulls you along at breakneck pace without leaving the audience confused or distracted. It's great. That it manages all that whilst serving up some excellent, beautiful action and a bucket load of comic references (I did not expect both M'Baku and war rhinos to appear in this film) means that it should hit the mark for newcomers and old fans alike.
And then there is Wakanda itself: the city is gorgeous! The design work that has gone into this film is impressive and breathtaking in equal parts. The costumes, the organic feel to the city streets, the various tribal customs, the whole waterfall tribal gathering concept, it's all great. It feels African. That said, "African" is probably right. Black Panther gets a lot of elements of the continent right, but it still feels like it was created with an American sensibility of "Africa" as a single, homogenous mass. Hence we get Masai spears, Ethiopian lip discs, Lesotho shepherd huts, Saharan head dresses... it goes on and on. For a hidden and secretive nation that's supposedly square in the centre of the Rift Valley complex, they have pulled from every area of Africa in terms of cultural references, and it just feels a bit weird to me. What's more, those traditional elements are often just swapped in and out without any thought to actual, real world animosities or grievances. It's a colonial, tourist-like approach to "Africa the monolith" that I feel is a shame for a film of this importance (and messaging) to get so wrong.
World-building gripes aside, however, the movie does a fantastic job of ensuring that the action centres around Wakanda. This isn't a threat that relies on external help to defeat: the people of Wakanda are more than capable enough, thank you. Even with the presence of Ross, he is shown as an outsider unable to really wrap his head around what's going on, more of a foil for the audience to be able to get some questions answered that the other characters simply wouldn't need to ask.
Layer on top a brilliant soundtrack and a whole heap of additional awesomeness in terms of design elements (that purple kinetic flush on the suit is a particularly clever idea and effect), some beautiful camerawork during long-cut fight scenes in both Korea and Wakanda, and an ending that sets up the African nation to play a huge role in the MCU moving forward, and Black Panther is a stunning film that barely puts a foot wrong. Wakanda forever!