The MCU films are an interesting combination of “let’s follow our formula religiously” and “let’s have this one feel entirely different.” It’s a tough line to walk, but they seem to make it work every time.
There are elements of this film that remind us of previous films. We have a young ruler who has to come to grips with the history of his family (like Thor). This guy is chemically enhanced and aided by vibranium (Captain America). He was born into wealth, trying to do the right thing (Iron Man). And we have him facing off with his there-but-for-the-grace-of-God-go-I doppelganger (every MCU hero by this point?).
Obviously, the biggest difference between Black Panther and the rest of the MCU films is that it’s cast is almost entirely black. Chadwick Boseman is the title character, with his whispery voice and his gravitas. He’s aided by Forrest Whittaker, Angela Bassett, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Daniel Kaluuya and (stealing her scenes) Letitia Wright. The bad guy is Michael B. Jordan, thankfully bringing in a breath of fresh air with his blunt American accent and his relatable backstory. There’s even a small role for Sterling K. Brown to dig his acting chops into.
The two white guys in the cast aren’t quite afterthoughts. Andy Serkis, reprising his Age of Ultron role as a despicable arms dealer is a lot of crazy fun. This guy should do more non-mo-cap work. And Martin Freeman, reprising his Civil War role, has, thankfully, spent some quality time with a dialect coach. He almost sounds American. Watching Gollum and Bilbo face off was a meta-joy for me. (Now I’m looking forward to Everett Ross sharing the screen with Dr. Strange and Justin Hammer.)
But, back to the main story. What the director, Ryan Coogler, manages to do is root this story of revolution in a secretive (and highly advanced) African nation in some heady themes: urban decay, racism, white colonialism and black slavery. But it never feels preachy or exploitative. It feels organic to the story.
I can’t say I’m chomping at the bit for another Blank Panther film, but the world-building going on here, and the impact that this story will have on the rest of this universe is potentially fascinating and should add a new texture to these films.