(In Theatres, March 2018) Believe the hype. This seventeenth entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is in some ways one of the most original and important of them all—now that Marvel Studio has spent a decade perfecting its house style and establishing itself as a dependable entertainer, they now feel free (or perhaps forced, given the ever-present spectre of superhero fatigue) to strike out in new directions and literally diversify their offerings. So that’s how we end up with Black Panther, the first big-budget science-fiction spectacular largely helmed by black filmmakers, starring black actors, tackling issues of black interest and squarely set in Africa. The result goes far beyond even the most enthusiastic expectations: The afro-futurism of the film is simply gorgeous. The vision presented on-screen, from set design to costumes to high technology, is refreshing to the point of distracting from the plot from time to time. (Wakanda Forever! I’d love to spend more time there.) The narrative supporting the film is decent as well, touching upon issues of interventionism, rebellion, succession and grief. (I got a lump in my throat at one particular line for reasons too personal to share.) Even the original activist meaning of Black Panther gets integrated in the film, alongside other knowing nods and acknowledgments. As with Wonder Woman a few months ago, it’s really interesting to watch Black Panther and notice how it’s conceived from within another culture—wakandian customs and costumes are presented colourfully but not exotically, marking a significant switch from the majority gaze that often stains other depictions of African culture. It’s easy to understand why Black Panther, in the month between its release and the writing of this review, has already become a cultural landmark—there’s never been anything like this in big-budget cinema yet, and the role models that the film offers are far more interesting than what so-called black cinema usually offers. It certainly helps that the film doesn’t hesitate a single moment in embracing its chosen wakandian culture: African accents are a wonderful change from the norm, and the actors in the film are nearly perfect for their roles. Chad Bosewick is restrained but good as the protagonist, but others arguably get more demonstrative roles: Forest Whittaker and Angela Bassett are esteemed veterans, Michael B. Jordan and Lupita N’yongo are already stars, but Danai Gurira and Letitia Wright make a serious play for stardom here. (Wright’s character is a delight whenever she appears on-screen, which is saying much given how good the rest of the cast is.) Artistically, there’s a clear progression here for writer/director Ryan Coogler from Fruitvale Station to Creed to Black Panther: not only does his script manage to touch upon an impressive density of political topics, but his direction is able to benefit from the big-budget means at his disposal—witness the handful of lengthy one shots. As the whitest guy possible, I’m impressed and thankful that the film is both so empowering and so inclusive—after a long series of white male superheroes, it’s a relief to get to play into a different kind of imagination and an honour to witness someone else’s fantastic speculation. If that’s how Marvel Studio plans to stay in business, then they deserve to get more of my money.