Marvel's Black Panther is finally here, and so far, things are going very well for the king of Wakanda. The movie dominated the box office in its opening weekend, with a $201 million three-day total and a four-day sum of $235 million. In addition to financial success, the film has received critical praise, with even Marvel Studios chief Kevin Feige calling it the company's best.
While this latest production is yet another notch in the studio's belt of big-screen hits, it brings more than cash and critical acclaim with it. Black Panther not only adds a fresh perspective to the Marvel Cinematic Universe but also manages to avoid some of the franchise's frequent missteps. This can probably be attributed to Ryan Coogler's keen eye and strong direction, as well as Marvel Studios learning from its mistakes. Either way, the final product improves on several key weaknesses. Here's a look at five of them.
THERE'S A COMPLEX AND MEMORABLE VILLAIN
It is no secret that the MCU has been plagued by a villain problem for a while now. Many of them are one-dimensional bad guys with basic motivations (i.e. rule the planet, gain corporate supremacy, etc.), who remain absent for a large portion of the film and do not come into play until the third act. With this, the character merely comes off as a plot device to move the hero's story forward. Some baddies, like Tom Hiddleston's Loki and Robert Redford's Alexander Pierce (in Captain America: The Winter Soldier), make for interesting antagonists. But for every villain like them, there are two like Whiplash or Malekith.
Marvel villains have been steadily improving with the likes of Vulture and Ego, and now Michael B. Jordan's Erik Killmonger seems to be the culmination of this upsurge. Killmonger proves to be a fully fleshed-out character who charms audiences within moments of his first appearance on screen. Viewers can also empathize with him, because he comes from a place of great physical and mental pain. As a result, he has an arc that is as – if not more – compelling than T'Challa's. If this is where the MCU is headed in terms of its bad guys, the films will be all the better for it.
THE SCORE ADDS TO THE MOVIEGOING EXPERIENCE
Music is another area where Marvel features tend to lack in quality. Alan Silvestri's Avengers theme and a few other pieces aside, the bulk of the scores have been somewhat bland. Ludwig Goransson's orchestral score, on the other hand, leaves a distinct mark. His use of African instruments and beats gives the music a unique vibe that is both exciting and soothing to the ear. In the process, he creates unique themes for both the hero and his homeland. Pairing these with an electrifying soundtrack, courtesy of Kendrick Lamar, makes for a listening experience unlike any other Marvel film, or any film, for that matter.
FEMALE SUPPORTING CHARACTERS GET MORE THAN ENOUGH TIME TO SHINE
One of the most exciting things going into Black Panther was the prospect of seeing strong women take center stage, and they do not disappoint. From the caring and spear-wielding Okoye to the brilliant and hilarious Shuri, each female character is layered and greatly contributes to the film.
In the past, unless your name is Natasha Romanoff, Wanda Maximoff or most recently Valkyrie, women in the MCU have primarily stayed in the background. Pepper Potts, Jane Foster, and others get small moments here and there, but they are gradually drowned out by the heroics of the title character(s). This time around the women have scenes that rival the hero's.
Nakia is particularly special, as it is not often that the love interest gets to do so much. Whether it is watching her and Okoye take down thugs in a South Korean casino or seeing the two have a heated discussion about loyalty, almost every moment with them was captivating. We can only hope this is the beginning of a new trend for female characters in the MCU and on the silver screen in general.
THE NEED TO REFERENCE THE LARGER MCU IS ALMOST NON-EXISTENT
T'Challa's first solo outing is remarkable because of a number of things it did do, but it also deserves credit for something it did not do – make constant references to other movies. The film is firmly set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which is immediately clear. However, unlike some MCU installments, it does not go out of its way to make mention of the larger world in which it exists. Other than a few flashbacks and some easter eggs that only eagle-eyed fans will spot, references to the greater universe are few and far between. Ultimately, this helps the movie stand on its own two feet.
THERE WILL BE LASTING EFFECTS ON THE BLACK PANTHER SERIES AND THE MCU
Without going too far into spoiler territory, Black Panther concludes with major developments for both Wakanda and the world at large. Some Marvel movies, like The Avengers and Captain America: The Winter Soldier, created far-reaching consequences, but many seem to leave things almost perfectly intact by the end. Thankfully, Black Panther falls into the former category, and by the time we get to a sequel, things should really be shaken up in a universe that will also be reeling from the events of those two upcoming Avengers films.