Following an initial social media blitz from critics in January, the first full reviews are in for Marvel’s Black Panther. The consensus? All hail King T’Challa.
Admittedly, it’s not a phenomenon that the first response to a Marvel movie is one of general enthusiasm. (See Thor: Ragnarok, Doctor Strange, and Captain America: Civil War.) But Black Panther marks a milestone that’s been long coming. It’s a film that’s not “a boilerplate blockbuster window-dressed with African-American faces, but a story fully, joyfully rooted in black culture,” EW’s Leah Greenblatt writes.
After the character’s introduction in Captain America: Civil War, T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) takes Marvelites inside his world of Wakanda, the fictional, once-secretive African nation. It boasts some of the top advances in technology, the home of Vibranium (that virtually indestructible metal that comprises Cap’s shield), and the kingdom T’Challa must now rule in the wake of his father’s death and civil unrest.
“It’s hard to find a weak spot in the stacked cast, even the ones who only have a few brief scenes,” Greenblatt remarks, noting the likes of Letitia Wright, Lupita Nyong’o, Michael B. Jordan, Danai Gurira, Angela Bassett, Forrest Whittaker, Sterling K. Brown, Daniel Kaluyaa, Martin Freeman, and Andy Serkis.
Black Panther hits theaters on Feb. 16. Read more reviews below.
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Leah Greenblatt (Entertainment Weekly)
“Ryan Coogler, the 31-year-old director whose brief resumé already includes an acclaimed indie drama (the 2013 festival breakout Fruitvale Station) and an underdog triumph (2015’s stellar Rocky reboot Creed) clearly fought hard to get Panther to the screen the way he envisioned it: not as a boilerplate blockbuster window-dressed with African-American faces, but a story fully, joyfully rooted in black culture. It doesn’t feel like an accident that a chunk of the movie’s most important action happens in his hometown of Oakland, only blocks away from the real-life events of Fruitvale. And Jordan’s kinetic Killmonger is no cat-stroking cartoon villain; he’s a genuinely tragic figure, a self-appointed warden of social justice irreparably warped by the wrongs done to him.”
Peter Debruge (Variety)
“Black Panther may not have the most impressive action sequences or visual effects of any Marvel movie, but it boasts the best villains. As an arms dealer whose arm doubles as a Vibranium super-cannon, Klaue makes for a nasty henchman, while Killmonger keeps his cards up his sleeve until relatively late in the film but emerges as the most satisfying comic-book adversary since Heath Ledger’s Joker.”
Todd McCarthy (The Hollywood Reporter)
“There’s no mistaking you’re still in the Marvel universe here, but this entry sweeps you off to a part of it you’ve never seen, a hidden lost world in Africa defined by royal traditions and technological wonders that open up refreshing new dramatic, visual, and casting possibilities. Getting it right where other studios and franchises — they know who they are — get it wrong, Marvel and Disney have another commercial leviathan here.”
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Alonso Duralde (The Wrap)
“Black Panther features at least one sequence that out-007s the recent James Bond movies. Shuri outfits T’Challa with some new gizmos just in time for him, Nakia and Okoye to travel to a casino in Busan, South Korea, where they get into a brawl with arms dealer Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis) before a breathtaking car chase ensues. (Among that sequence’s thrilling aspects is Black Panther riding on top of a driverless sports car that Shuri is handling via remote control from her lab in Wakanda.) It’s these thrilling moments that make the film’s occasional pacing lapses forgivable; not to give away too much of the plot, but the story is structured in a way that several key moments are repeated or revisited from another angle.”
Matt Singer (ScreenCrush)
“This key change, turning an African necklace into one of the most powerful objects on the planet, is no accident. It’s also a symbol, representative of everything co-writer/director Ryan Coogler wants to do with his Black Panther, a film that imbues black identity and iconography with the power and allure of superhero imagery. The Panther, king of a secretive and highly advanced African nation called Wakanda, is the eighth different solo hero to headline his own Marvel Studios movie, but just the first one of color; Coogler pounced on that opportunity to create a bold new comic-book movie full of imagination and excitement.”
Jimi Famurewa (Empire)
“To say that Ryan Coogler’s films are expanding in scope and scale – more ambitious, audacious and pyrotechnically dazzling each time – would be to deal in wild understatement. After the wrenching, real-time intimacy of his debut, Fruitvale Station, and the franchise-jolting, bruised adrenalin hit of Creed, we now have Black Panther: a giddily enjoyable, convention-bucking 134-minute epic that somehow manages to simultaneously be a comic-book blockbuster, a pulsating espionage thriller and an Afro-futurist family saga. That it is only Coogler’s third film makes it all the more impressive.”
David Ehrlich (IndieWire)
“Black Panther is different. It’s the first one of these films that flows with a genuine sense of culture and identity, memory and musicality. It’s the first one of these films that doesn’t merely reckon with power and subjugation in the abstract, but also gives those ideas actual weight by grafting them onto specific bodies and confronting the historical ways in which they’ve shaped our universe. Last, but certainly not least, it’s also the first black superhero movie since the dawn of the genre’s seemingly endless golden age (or at least since that one where Will Smith hurled a giant whale at a bunch of innocent sailers).”
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Manohla Dargis (The New York Times)
“Race matters in Black Panther and it matters deeply, not in terms of Manichaean good guys and bad but as a means to explore larger human concerns about the past, the present and the uses and abuses of power. That alone makes it more thoughtful about how the world works than a lot of mainstream movies, even if those ideas are interspersed with plenty of comic-book posturing. It wouldn’t be a Marvel production without manly skirmishes and digital avatars. Yet in its emphasis on black imagination, creation, and liberation, the movie becomes an emblem of a past that was denied and a future that feels very present. And in doing so opens up its world, and yours, beautifully.”
Joelle Monique (Polygon)
“Black Panther is the best Marvel film thus far. Aside from the incredible representation and the gorgeous visuals, the story is terrific. I have never cared for a villain the way I care for Michael B. Jordan’s Erik Killmonger. Standing with feet shoulder-width apart, he always has his hands clasped in front of him, and he never looks at anyone straight on unless he intends to end them. Killmonger is as attractive as he is intimidating. But Jordan wasn’t hired for just his sex appeal. That sharp eye and wounded heart shine through a tough exterior to illuminate a real human being. He is the crown jewel of an incredibly wealthy project.”
Mike Ryan (UPROXX)
“It’s obvious Ryan Coogler didn’t direct Black Panther to make an action movie. Instead, it’s a dense movie about family, community, internal struggle, and external struggle. And it’s a movie with a lot on its mind. Marvel Studios head Kevin Feige has been pretty quiet on what’s coming after 2019’s still-untitled fourth Avengers film, but there’s no doubt that Black Panther is going to play a huge role in whatever is next. Black Panther feels like the beginning of something new.”
Peter Travers (Rolling Stone)
“Thrillingly and thoughtfully directed and written (with Joe Robert Cole) by Ryan Coogler, the film lights up the screen with a full-throttle blast of action and fun. That’s to be expected. But what sneaks up and floors you is the film’s racial conscience and profound, astonishing beauty. Not just a correction for years of diversity neglect, it’s a big0budget blockbuster that digs into the roots of blackness itself. Coogler, 31, has proved his skills behind the camera with Fruitvale Station and Creed, but in Black Panther he journeys into the heart of Africa to bring a new world to the screen. The result feels revolutionary.”
Brian Truitt (USA Today)
“While the themes are deep, Black Panther is at the same time a visual joy to behold, with confident quirkiness (those aforementioned war rhinos), insane action sequences and special effects, and the glorious reveal of Wakanda, whose culture is steeped in African influences but which also offers a jaw-dropping look at what a city of the future could be.”