Black Panther ★★★★

There's a bit of a missed opportunity in Wakanda. It is a fully realized setting, shown to us through vivid world-building and character interactions that suggest centuries of history. It's so immersive and inviting that it becomes all the more disappointing that a lot of it is relegated to CGI backdrop. While Wakanda's customs, rituals, and politics are as fleshed out as ever, we're kept at arm's length from it as a city where people live. Why don't we see what the citizens think of Erik's rise to power? Where are the reaction shots of civilians looking up with wonder at the airships chasing each other? For all the rich history Wakanda shows us, we're mainly relegated to about five rooms, a waterfall, the outer-tribes, and only one street location. I wanted to spend more time in Wakanda. Wakanda, alas, will always be kept as a fantasy.

Perhaps that is by design. While this is a glaring fault, it does not detract too much from this knotty, layered film. It almost suffers too hard from "the villain is right" syndrome, but Coogler (and Jordan) treat him with such sympathy and respect that it circumvents the usual problems with that sort of antagonist, while the many conflicting politics and interpersonal relationships of its large cast manage to feel balanced and as well-realized as Wakanda itself.

Coogler's directing chops certainly elevate this a great deal. Not all the action lands, but he has a keen ear for sound design and editing alongside music that gives his fights an extra kick. Furthermore, everything in the South Korea sequence is a banger.

Not as good as Creed and still not without its Marvelisms (I kinda hate that this is in any way related to the dogshit that is Civil War), but its flaws manage to make it more fun to engage with. I'm actually happy to imagine the missing edges of its world, as what we've been given manages to suggest so much. If there's a sequel, I hope Coogler gets to do it and go all-in.

And give all the women their own movie, lord almighty I'm gay.