Remember the epic battle of New York in the climax of The Avengers? Of course you do. It’s the most memorable part of an already memorable movie. That finale is superhero theatrics at its finest. It’s also devoid of a great deal of the gravitas it could display due to where it takes place. That is, despite being a real city, the Manhattan of The Avengers has no sense of place or life to it. It’s just set dressing. As a result, the final battle feels like the rough equivalent of knocking over a Lego set. Most Marvel films, short of maybe Thor, suffer from this — a lack of place being well defined. Black Panther tackles this head on with the film’s most memorable character: Wakanda.
No, it’s not technically a character, but it’s tough to point to any single facet of the film that works as well as Wakanda. Through its citizens, royal bloodline, design, and established rules and history, Wakanda feels like a real place, a living, breathing nation with a lived-in vibe that few superhero movies can effectively convey these days. When Wakanda begins to turn on itself at the film’s climax, it matters. We care about what happens to it. Without sending a single Helicarrier crashing into a palace or cityscape, we feel the palpable damage caused to the nation through the events of the film. More importantly, we care about that repercussions of that damage.