When Marvel announced ‘Black Panther’, it was a safe bet it’d end up in the realms of controversy previously occupied by a woman-filled reboot of ‘Ghostbusters’; right down to keyboard warriors out to tank the film on movie review sites.
For those unaware, in some ways ‘Black Panther’ is a gleeful checklist of ways to get particular noses out of joint: the “little African nation” is the world’s technological powerhouse.
There’s only two white characters with meaningful roles. The saviour nerd - hailed in interviews as the smartest character in the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) - is a teenaged African princess.
The most bad-ass military group are bald women without a trace of titillation-armour. There are no women fawning over the handsome new King, but plenty happy to mock and call him out.
Still, making bigots cry is a distant fringe benefit here. ‘Black Panther’ might well be the best movie in the MCU and with more ticket pre-sales than any other superhero flick in history, it’s safe to say the majority are excited to see where Marvel takes this superhero.
In ‘Captain America: Civil War’, we were introduced to T’Challa, Prince and protector of Wakanda who became king when his father was murdered.
‘Black Panther’ follows on from those events with T’Challa returning home to claim his kingship, learning how to balance ruling with his role as the Black Panther. But outside forces threaten his home, and his family, and protecting his kingdom might mean changing it forever.
Chadwick Boseman’s T’Challa is kind, graceful and merciful, the sort of king it’s hard not to respect. It doesn’t hurt that he kicks ass in an incredible suit of armour, either.
But what’s beautiful here is that T’Challa escapes many of the tired superhero tropes. He doesn’t socially isolate himself for the good of all or try and stop his sister being involved in the action. Instead, he listens, he’s respectful and emotional beyond the typical fear and rage tropes.
Though it’s T’Challa’s movie, it’s Shuri, played to perfection by Letitia Wright, who steals every scene she’s in.
She’s the sort of character that's impossible not to love: smart, funny and kind-hearted, she’s the sort of girl who’ll design you a weapon and kick your ass with it without hesitation. And yet, though she’s a superhero in her own right, it’s her normalcy that sets her apart.
There’s no tragic backstory turning her heart bitter; she does what she does because she loves it or believes in it. And when Shuri’s not there, Danai Gurira’s (aka Michonne of 'The Walking Dead') General Okoye steps into the role of overlord of awesome, with more snark in a single eyebrow than Tony Stark can manage in an entire film. It’s truly a wonder to behold.
Truthfully, the characterisation here is top-notch, with each lovingly portrayed by staggeringly talented actors. So many of the characters could rock their own stand-alone movies; we need more Wakanda-based movies.
‘Black Panther’ is what a superhero movie can be when you throw away the tired tropes and bring something new to the mix; when you rip away the bitter brooding and power plays and explore the strengths usually portrayed as weaknesses. It’s witty banter, stunning backgrounds and edge-of-your-seat action that it’s impossible to look away from.
If you love emotionally compelling storytelling and phenomenal acting, you need to see ‘Black Panther’.
‘Black Panther’ releases nationally in cinemas 15 February; and head’s up, you’re probably gonna want to see it more than once.