Ryan Coogler's masterful superhero drama is unlike any other, featuring outstanding acting, breathtaking art direction, fascinating royal intrigue, memorable action sequences, and surprising depth. It's that depth -- of character, of storyline, of relevancy -- that makes Black Panther shine, as Boseman's T'Challa takes the mantle of king with enormous uncertainty about whether to share Wakanda's resources with the world. With the exception of his second-in-command W'Kabi (Kaluuya), T'Challa surrounds himself with an inner circle of influential women: Okoye, Nakia, his mother (Bassett), and his genius younger sister, scientist/tech inventor Shuri (Letitia Wright). Each of them contributes much to the story, with Gurira's spear-wielding Okoye the movie's clear scene-stealer, Wright the clever comic relief, and Nyong'o offering a wee bit of romance. Even the central villain, as played by frequent Coogler collaborator Jordan, is well-rounded and humanized, with the actor doing great work opposite the equally nuanced Boseman.
There's so much to appreciate in Black Panther, from its pulsing score, which features a soundtrack overseen by award-winning rapper Kendrick Lamar, to the mesmerizing cinematography courtesy of DP Rachel Morrison, gorgeous tribal costumes, and vibrant production design. There's not as much laugh-aloud banter as viewers may have come to expect from Marvel movies, but the beats of humor that are here, usually thanks to plucky Shuri or mountain-tribe leader M'Baku (Winston Duke), are extra funny. Ultimately the film's success comes down to the thoughtful, compelling storytelling from director Coogler and writer Joe Robert Cole, as interpreted by a terrific cast of actors. This isn't just another highly entertaining but formulaic superhero story; it's also poignant and powerful and earns its place toward the top of Marvel's films. (Be sure to watch all the way through the credits for a couple of extra tidbits!)