The film really comes into its own when it introduces the villain: an American, Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) with a dark history and ties to Wakanda. Killmonger is by every measure the most interesting villain Marvel’s cinematic universe has ever offered. In fact, he’s only a “villain” insofar as his philosophy directly challenges that of our hero, the Black Panther. In large part due to a hugely committed performance by Jordan, Killmonger is a genuinely thrilling on-screen presence.

More than thrills, though, Killmonger inserts a profound moral dilemma into the heart of Black Panther, one steeped in racial history and identity that’s deeply personal to a large segment of the film’s audience. Killmonger—an Oakland, California native with special ops experience and a lifetime of righteous anger—advances a very different vision for Wakanda’s future from T’Challa’s. He wants to use the country’s massive vibranium reserves to arm black communities around the world so they can revolt against their oppressors. He wants a new world where he, and people who look like him, are finally in control of their destinies after centuries of subjugation.

If this doesn’t sound like an ordinary Marvel superhero film, that’s because it decidedly is not. It’s a testament to director Ryan Coogler’s vision that Black Panther is a wholly unique, self-sufficient film that still manages to fit snugly into the wider Marvel ecosystem. Marvel needs Black Panther much more than Black Panther needs Marvel, a set-up that is in some ways mirrored by the story. Does the world need Wakanda? Does the African diaspora need Wakanda? Or should Wakanda remain in defensive camouflage?

Coogler has created something original and vital out of a Disney-fied superhero universe that, for the most part, has operated at the same worn out wavelength for a decade. That’s a huge feat unto itself. Black Panther doesn’t “transcend” the superhero genre so much as it elevates the entire thing alongside it. It’s the most formidable Marvel film to date; a cinematic artifact that feels like it shouldn’t belong to the corporate superhero apparatus. But it’s really exciting to know that it does.

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