You know what? Flat out, this movie is incredible. If you're standing in the theater lobby right now skimming reviews to try and work out what to spend your hard earned twenty bucks on, stop right now. Just buy the ticket, go to this, thank me later.
If you're actually reading this review for a nuanced assessment of the film, a few disclaimers. One: Much to my long-suffering nerd boyfriend's eternal frustration, I am not a Marvel fan. I don't dislike them, I just don't follow them at all. I've seen Age of Ultron twice and still forget major plot points. Like who Ultron is. So I'm not 100% on where exactly this movie fits into the canon, and I don't understand a lot of the inside references or remember which characters did what in the previous film. It doesn't matter; this is an amazing, stand-alone film with an interesting, fully realized plot of its own. Two: This is a film made for African American audiences. It would be completely naive to pretend that this film exists outside the current US and global political climate, and it needs to be viewed as such. My thoughts on that are brief, and without authority.
The movie centres around King T'Challa's return to Wakanda, the most technologically advanced and well-hidden nation on Earth, to ascend the throne and lead his people following the death of his father in Captain America: Civil War. However, an American mercenary and arms dealer, Killmonger, finds his way to Wakanda and challenges for the throne, believing himself to have a rightful claim and planning to use Wakanda's limited resources for the liberation of black people the world over.
Visually, the film is absolutely spectacular. Every single element of the Wakandan nation and the tribes that populate it has been thoughtfully researched and painstakingly brought to life to accurately pay homage to the beauty and diversity of the African continent. For this alone, it's worth seeing on the big screen.
The women of Wakanda are undoubtedly the highlight of the film, although it doesn't quite pass the Bechdel Test. They are strong, fully realised, integral characters, and each is given their own hero moment to make a strong moral decision and defend what they believe is right. It's refreshing and inspiring to see a major blockbuster with so many women in it and to see those women take such equal roles. The King's bodyguard, made up entirely of female warriors, is a particularly enjoyable element.
But the central conflict of the film - the historical suppression of black people, their fight for liberation and the use of violence - doesn't resolve in any kind of satisfying way. The antagonist's motivations are sympathetic and watching T'Challa and his supporters advocate for the preservation of Wakanda comes across as privileged rather than measured. The dilemma faced by the Wakandan nation, Killmonger's radicalism or T'Challa's nobility beyond reproach, nearly tears them apart and the fact that there isn't really a neat, happy ending is perhaps a reflection of the complex and sometimes untenable nature of race relations in Trump's America, and the world. However, as posited by many African American critics, it's also a reminder that there is still a very long way to go in the mainstream representation of their people and stories.