After his father, King T'Chaka, the former King of Wakanda gets assassinated, T'Challa (Chadwick Boseman) returns to the African nation of Wakanda to ascend the throne. The Wakandans have a special mineral called vibranium which is capable of giving T'Challa the superpowers to turn him into Black Panther. Vibranium also serves as the film's MacGuffin. Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis) and Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan), T'Challa's nemises, want to steal it. The vengeful Killmonger hopes to become King of Wakanda instead of T'Challa. Shuri (Letitia Wright), Black Panther's sister, helps to transform him into Black Panther. Daniel Kaluuya plays W'Kabi, T'Challa's best friend, and Lupita Nyong'o plays Nakia, T'Challa's former lover. There's also T'Challa's mother, Ramonda (Angela Bassett), royal guard chief Okoye (Danai Gurira), CIA agent Everett K. Ross (Martin Freeman), and Zuri (Forest Whitaker), a shaman.
The best kind of superhero movies keep you entertained and appeal to your emotions while remaining grounded in humanism. If you're lucky, they're also smart and witty like Iron Man and Captain America. Black Panther, though, fails to be entertaining, moving or intelligent, but it does deserve to be commended for what it represents and why people will probably be referencing it in years to come: it's a major step forward for African and African-American actors and filmmakers in Hollywood. The film begins with a ho-hum expositional scene that provides some background information about Wakanda and vibranium before throwing you right into the middle of a scene that explains why Killmonger will eventually be seeking revenge. The characters' motivations are quite clear, but the screenplay by Ryan Coogler and Joe Robert Cole leaves no room for subtlety or interpretation.
Unfortunately, Black Panther feels stuffed with too many characters none of whom come to life enough for you to root for them or care about them as human beings, even T'Challa. A few glimmers of wit don't compensate for the pedestrian, dull and shallow screenplay that has no surprises or memorable dialogue for that matter. The action scenes fall flat as do some of the attempts at comic relief. Also, there's a clunky flashback that takes away from the film's ever so slight momentum. The talented actors try their best to rise above the stodgy screenplay, but none of them truly stand out. They've all given better performances in far better films.
The only elements that do indeed shine in Black Panther are the CGI, costume designs, set designs and sound effects that fill your eyes and ears. But what about everything in between your eyes and ears, i.e. things that appeal to your heart, mind and soul like wit, poignancy, warmth, charisma, cleverness, etc...? Those are intangible elements that money cannot buy, and, unfortunately, you won't find nearly enough of them in Black Panther. You can clearly see where the film's budget went. A lot of imagination went into the design of Wakanda and it surely paid off on an aesthetic level. If only the same could be said for the screenplay that leaves a lot to be desired. Stylish visuals can only go so far before the "Wow!" factor diminishes and you're left hungry for something with intrinsic value. To be fair, sometimes a blockbuster can be all style with no substance and still manage to be purely escapist fun and a guilty pleasure, i.e. the first Transformers. That's not the case with this film, though. At a running time of 2 hours and 14 minutes, Black Panther is an insipid, soulless, and overproduced bore. Please be sure to stay through the end credits for a post-credits stinger.