'Black Panther' Is a Progressive Spy Movie with a Sci-Fi Heart of Gold

Not just a superhero movie.


When people tell you a movie is good, it can mean all sorts of things. But, it usually doesn’t mean the movie is good for you. Which is what makes Black Panther so wonderful and unique. It’s the rare cinematic spectacle that makes you feel good in every sense of the word. It also proves we’re living in the renaissance of the Marvel cinematic universe. But, it’s more than just a superhero flick. This is science fiction film mashed-up with a 21st-century spy movie.

No spoilers ahead for Black Panther.

Before seeing Black Panther, a casual fan might worry that the film would be good, but not as good as the first Iron Man or the most recent Thor. But, once you’ve seen the movie, you feel like Marvel could have kicked off its cinematic universe with T’Challa and it would have been just fine. In Captain America: Civil War, we learned that the the fictional nation of Wakanda was secretly very technologically advanced, an invisible superpower hiding in plain sight. The power of Black Panther is similar. It feels like this movie should have already existed, which makes it even more fantastic that it finally does.

Much will be written about how Black Panther changes the superhero genre forever, and how that’s connected to the fact its cast is mostly non-white. All of that is true and all of that is essential because the future of fantastical films must look very different in the future than they’ve looked before. The movie is great not just because of what it symbolizes, but because it is great. For fans of superheroes, much is here that you will love. But, if you like spy movies or philosophical sci-fi like Star Trek, you might love this movie even more than the comic book people.

The first third of Black Panther feels like what a new spy movie should be: Keep all the awesome James Bond spy gadgets and intrigue but ditch all the sexist, alcoholic, and jingoistic baggage. There’s a scene in a casino that beats any casino scene in any Bond movie hands-down. Plus, the ensuing car chase gives the Fast and Furious crowd a run for their money, too.

Then, when Black Panther arrives at its philosophical center and grapples with the questions of technological responsibility through a science fiction lens, you feel like you’ve been transported into a great episode of Deep Space Nine with really good production values, excellent stunts, and some incredibly tight scripting. Critics who saw the movie a few weeks ago and claimed that it was slow to start must have seen a different film. Unlike so many Marvel movies, Black Panther makes every scene count. Nothing is wasted, and nothing goes on for too long either. Each fight, chase, or conversation feels perfectly timed, expertly crafted and beautifully precise.

Lupita Nyong'o as Nakia


In Thor: Ragnarok, Marvel basically rebooted Thor’s personality to make the movie genuinely fun. Black Panther didn’t even need to try that hard. The movie is so charming that it barely calls attention to how likable it is. It’s for this reason, people will say they loved this movie and genuinely mean it, too. Part of the reason why is that Black Panther’s protagonists — specifically T’Challa, Black Panther himself — are all free of one thing so many adventure or sci-fi films are burdened with: tons of angst.

There’s no reluctant grumpy old guy in this adventure. Instead, the hero characters here all basically good, happy people, and they want to make the world a better place.

Some might say that kind of optimism is old fashion. But in Black Panther, it feels brand new.

Black Panther is out in wide release on February 16, 2018.

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