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Black Panther Is Marvel’s Coolest, Most Political Superhero Movie

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Black Panther, not in theatres until February 16, has already sold more advanced tickets than any other movie to come out of the Marvel superhero-movie-making machine. It’s no exaggeration to say that the film, directed by Ryan Coogler (Creed, Fruitvale Station), is highly anticipated. Early reviews are almost all raves—Vanity Fair has classified them as “ecstatic” but we’re here to tell you that all the hyperbolic headlines are… totally justified.

While Black Panther makes no great leap forward from the tried and true (or tired and true, depending on your threshold for repetition) superhero movie story arc, what this category of films lack in plot originality, Black Panther makes up for in casting, art direction, costume design, and writing (the sharp yet casual one-liners calling out colonialism, white privilege, and the American superiority complex both zing and sting—as they should).

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Sharpest-tongued of all is the film’s standout star, Letitia Wright. Wright plays the un-princesslike Princess Shuri, sister of our titular hero (and in our opinion the real hero of the movie). You’ll recognize the actor from “Black Museum,” one of this season’s best episodes of Black Mirror (directed by Colm McCarthy whose credits include The Girl With All The Gifts, plus an excellent Matt Smith-era episode of Doctor Who).

While Chadwick Boseman and Michael B. Jordan’s characters engage in the kinds of physical ass-kicking you’d expect from dudes with pecs and delts and abs as defined as theirs are (what does a human even have to eat to look like that?) Wright’s character is in her lab, joyfully cracking jokes, lovingly doling out insults, wearing the coolest clothes, and inventing the coolest tech we’ve seen since Back To The Future (which Coogler slyly references). We’re putting in our request for a Shuri standalone movie right now, please and thanks.

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One of Black Panther’s most impressive strengths lies in what it isn’t. As we saw late last year with the release of Wonder Woman, audiences want to see superhero films that feature someone (anyone) other than another white guy wearing a cape and/or holding a shield. Refreshingly, there’s none of that here. But Coogler’s film goes beyond simply paying lip service to diversity.

Black Panther stands out as a groundbreaker not just within the superhero genre, but in Hollywood in general—from the Gil Scott Heron track sampled throughout the trailer, to the Kendrick Lamar soundtrack, to the hair and makeup and set design, to Coogler’s vision of what an African, technological utopia could look like (Wakanda is a capital city that’s nothing like the Western or Asian-influenced visions of the future we know well—one of the most notable differences? It’s not a dystopia). Black Panther is original and offers something new in a genre crowded with movies that have gotten way too samey—that’s something to get excited about.

Black Panther will tear up the screen beginning February 16. Watch the trailer below.