Much like with Wonder Woman, I spent the majority of Black Panther scrabbling to keep myself from just openly sobbing over how happy I was that people besides white men are finally getting to star in these big loud splashy superhero movies. They’ve been throwing this ridiculous fight-dance party, and other people are invited now too! It’s enough to bring a girl to tears, apparently.
Also like with Wonder Woman, Black Panther turns out to be a comfortably traditional paint-by-numbers entry into the superpowered genre, but the palette they’re pulling from is just a whole lot more vibrant than Marvel and DC’s usual fare. Though with the exception of the most recent Thor picture, Taika Waititi’s very Māori Ragnarok, which is actually centered around a ton of the same themes as Black Panther. Both movies are amazingly literal indictments of colonialism and imperialism, and deal deeply in diaspora identity politics/struggles, which is a heck of an accomplishment in an American blockbuster. Incidentally, they also both localize Warriorship in a powerful woman of color, feature a surprise blood relation arrived to villain vamp around and make everyone re-examine themselves through this familial mirror darkly, give most of the best jokes to the snarky younger sibling character, and are structured to take their titular lead on an emotional journey to becoming a good proper king to his people — starting it off by killing his father.
Where Thor: Ragnarok distinguishes itself from Black Panther and the rest is in its distinctly off-kilter sense of humor. And beyond the radical fact of its majority black cast, crew, and concerns, where Black Panther continues to distinguish itself from all comers before is certainly in its design. Music, production, costume — it all leaps off the screen with beauty, history, meaning, and total inspired brilliance. This is the sort of movie where a reveal of what a character is wearing and in what sort of surroundings had me stifling exclamations in the theater, multiple times. It’s design as a huge living component of the storytelling, like the way Guillermo Del Toro works.
Anyway, yes this is an expensive frenetic battle ballet, but it’s a good and substantive version of that, and with this one fresh in my mind I’m almost not fatigued just thinking about how many superhero movies are still to come.