TL;DR - It's ok. Good performances anchored by a charismatic Chadwick Boseman and good worldbuilding for Wakanda are undercut by terrible fight coreography, sub-par CGI and a racial marketing buzz.
Marvel just knows how to make good movies. Kevin Feige has a deft touch at knowing what will appeal to a broad audience. The Black Panther is neither as bad as you might fear nor as good as you might hope. Like most movies it has flaws but it also has good stuff in it. If you can suspend your disbelief, like you need to for most Superhero movies, you'll have a good time watching it. You won't get preached at too much and you get to see the bad guys lose.
That is no small feat.
I won't go into the history of Black Panther, some time spent on Wikipedia can do that better than I can, but I will point out that there is a strong desire on the part of some of the writers of the comic to make the character a polemic on the evils of white people. Every time the comic does that, sales tank the the writer has to find other work. But the movie manages to avoid that. Mostly*. The message of the movie is one that preaches the merits of being inclusive and open, of helping other people rather than painting them with a wide brush as 'the enemy'. If there ever was a time for that message, it's the post-Obama age. This is an inclusive movie, regardless of how it is being marketed and portrayed on social media.
Chadwick Boseman is T'Challa, the new King of Wakanda, following the death of his father in Civil War. He is also the Black Panther, the protector of the fictional African nation that enjoys a sci-fi standard of living thanks to being the sole source of the magical mystery metal 'Vibranium'.
However there are a few loose ends to tie up for the new king. One is Ulysses Klaue (NOT the Living Laser in the comic continuity, thanks David), a thief last seen in Age of Ultron who managed to actually steal a great deal of vibranium from Wakanda. The king and most of his advisors want Klaue captured and brought to justice. And they also feel that they should control all the vibranium out there in the world. To that latter end, Wakanda apparently has a vast international network of spies and agents, hidden among the nations of the Earth.
Which brings us to the second loose end, the villainous Black Lives Matter radical/murderer/terrorist/CIA agent (?) Killmonger. Killmonger is part of Klaue's crew but also is of noble blood, being the son of a Wakandan Prince. Killmonger was abandoned to live alone in Oakland California after the previous Black Panther (T'Challa's father) killed him. This lost cousin grows up very, very bad. And he wants revenge and the crown of Wakanda.
One of the interesting quirks of Wakanda is that their isolation and cultural homogeneity has preserved some very old traditions. Including one where those of royal blood may challenge for the throne via single combat. This sort of monomacy was a valid form of succession in a few ancient cultures and the survival of it into superhightech Wakanda is odd and unique.
Killmonger challenges T'Challa, wins the fight and takes the throne. After that, he commits to use Wakanda's technology and spy network to foment a world-wide revolution that will supposedly result in Wakanda ruling the world.**
T'Challa however survived the fight and reappears at the end of the movie to defeat Killmonger and prevent the spread of high tech weapons to revolutionaries.
However, having secured his throne, he is more convinced than ever that Wakanda should reach out to the world, not to rule it but to lead by example and by trying to improve the lives of people outside their hidden nation.
The two strongest elements I thought were the characters and the setting. Black Panther's family and friends all interact as if they truly knew each other and liked each other. They seemed to be real people, which is a good and an important trick in making a movie. (A trick the DC movies have not mastered) When you have characters that care about each other, we care about them too.
Wakanda is...well, it's a daydream, frankly. But one that has its roots in other literature as well. From King Solomon's mines, to Tarzan to The Phantom (the Ghost Who Walks), we have an image of an African nation that was both able to maintain it's archaic traditions without sinking into tribal barbarism and dictatorship. All of them, Wakanda included, ruled or protected by a powerful guardian with abilities beyond those of normal men. In this case, The Black Panther.
But if you accept the premise - that this semi-magical material, 'vibranium', has allowed Wakanda to not just forge powerful weapons and armor but to also somehow create a high degree of education and science*** - the details that go into this setting are amazing. I wish Asgard had gotten one tenth the amount of thought and detail Wakanda gets. Then maybe we'd have cared when it was destroyed in Thor 3...
Andy Serkis's performance as Klaue also stands out. He's just having so much fun and seems to be a real threat with his new laser-shooting artificial arm. A quality bad guy is so important and while he lasts, Klaue is a wily and amusing antagonist.
Chadwick Boseman's performance also stands out. Like Captain American, Black Panther has a moral clarity and strength. He is strong, masculine and decisive. When faced with moral quandaries, he doesn't mope or wallow in pity, he acts. He is heroic in his character.
I also liked the James Bond riffs in the early part of the movie. If the whole film had been like that, I would have been okay with it. Or if the whole movie had been set in Wakanda only (which would have made for a stronger film), I'd have been okay with that too.
Finally, Michael B. Jordan's Killmonger was not a great character and not a great performance but I will give Jordan credit: he was in great shape and seemed physically and emotionally menacing. Not bad for the villain.
What didn't work?
The CGI in places, especially in the second half, was sub-standard. It stuck out and for the Black Panther vs Killmonger final fight, it detracted from the movie. There were a lot of effects houses working on this film, the ones who focused on Wakanda did a fine job. But not all of them.
The fight scenes were also badly choreographed and edited. I've seen Creed, the previous directorial effort of Ryan Coogler, and that was well-choreographed. So I don't think it was strictly a problem of direction. I suspect Rachel Morrison, the Director of Photography, didn't know how to shoot fight scenes. They were hard to focus on, did not show the actors full bodies often, and some scenes had noticably been 'sped up' to seem to be faster and more powerful. Possibly one or more of the fight choreographers weren't up to scratch. Or maybe the problem was with the actors, though Boseman seemed fine in Civil War and Jordan was fine in Creed. I'm putting this at the D of P's feet. Fight scenes are important in action movies, you can't screw them up like was done here.
Michael B. Jordan's dialog and dialog/character did not work for me. Again, I've seen Creed. He's not great in it. He was ok, more of a physical performance than an acting display. And in this, he talks like a hood rat. Which makes his introductory scene in the museum almost laughable, it's so bad. Also, and this isn't on him precisely as an actor, his backstory is a problem. He's not only supposed to be a street punk from Oakland AND a secret Wakandan prince, he's also supposed to be a CIA agent who works to destabilize countries. *facepalm* Now, I'm no virgin, I know the CIA and other TLA agencies do in fact perform dirty tricks like that. But I hope to God they wouldn't use someone as sloppy and unable to be low profile as this Killmonger. Spies are subtle. They aren't thugs, not if they want to live and avoid jail time in third world shitholes. Maybe this was a fault of the director, maybe the co-writer Joe Cole, who is not very experienced.
Martin Freeman didn't really work for me. He's supposed to be a former Air Force pilot in this movie as well as a CIA agent. *buzz* No. I have known many Air Force pilots. They are all cocky, arrogant, assured assholes. (And I say that in love) They are not Bilbo Baggins here. He's in this story purely as a way to show how cool and advanced Wakanda is compared to 'white people'. He's here to be yelled at and belittled. Now the movie doesn't lather that on too much, but it does happen. Particularly in the 'barking' scene. What would have worked better would be to have Bucky Barnes in his role. He was IN Wakanda at the end of Civil War, so I'm not sure why he wasn't here. Failure of imagination, maybe. But the Winter Soldier would have worked better than Martin Freeman's Everett Ross.
Finally, there are a couple of tone problems. Overall, the movie worked but without nitpicking it for hours, there were some parts that just bumped me.
Two are in the South Korea scene...by the way, I assume South Korea is in this movie for transparent pandering reasons and it is jarring...the first is when Klaue blasts a car Okoye (one of the bald bodyguards) is standing on. She uses her spear and the hood of the car to sorta...surf her way to a stop. No. That's not how physics works. She is not a superhero, so I can't cut her the same breaks I'd cut Black Panther. It's dumb and breaks the movie moment.
Second is also related to Klaue blasting the shit out of car. We have his almost comical moment of the driver's seat and one of the other bald bodyguards skidding to a halt. The rest of the car was blasted to oblivion but she's just...cartoon blackened. It doesn't work, the movie isn't a slapstick and considering the murder and throat cutting past and future in the film, it doesn't work. If you want us to accept the jeopardy, you need to treat the danger as real. See Captain America 2 for how to do this right.
Another is, sigh, the guy with a lid in his lip. Yes, it's a real thing. And yes, it looks stupid. Everytime he talks, I get the giggles. I can't take him or his character seriously. And don't get me started on his green suit.
Then there's the rhinos...just...no. No riding war rhinos. I can't take a fight seriously that has people riding war rhinos. It does not match the tone of the rest of the movie.
So how would I fix it?
The tone problems are easy to fix. Just treat the danger as real, not a cartoon. Make the threats real, shoot some Wakandas who don't have magic body armor****. Don't give the guy with a lid in his lip any dialog. Don't have people riding war rhinos.
The fight choreography can be fixed by either spending more time with the actors, getting a new fight guy or by fixing the photography/editing. Seriously, it's a superhero movie, you need to get the fights right.
I'd put the Winter Soldier into the story in place of the Martin Freeman CIA agent. He has the skills and maybe the contacts to help find and fight Klaue. And he has the kind of physicality that allows him to stare down hooting gorilla themed black guys.
Also, as much as I like monkeys, you shouldn't put gorilla themed black guys in your movie. Unless we're saying that is no longer racially offensive. Which I'm ok with, because I like monkeys.
Move the action to be either in Wakanda or on the borders. Michael B Jordan and Klaue can break back into Wakanda to steal vibranium to make up for what was stolen or lost in previous movies. Then Jordan can stab Klaue in the back as planned and make his play for the throne. In fact, he should be making his play for the throne much earlier. Then we can have the real plot conflict happen in the setting they worked so hard on, rather than shoehorning in some Asian scenery porn to try to appeal to China. Also China is not South Korea. I don't think you're fooling anyone, Marvel.
Also don't kill off Klaue, unless Andy Serkis said he didn't want to play the role anymore. Which I doubt. He was/is a good villain and he's wasted here, literally.
This is a pretty good movie. It is not a blacks vs whites movie, to its credit. It has a message of hope, inclusion and heroism. It's a solid movie.
*There is habit of some of the characters to refer to all white people in the movie as 'Colonialist', which is funny considering it's said repeated to a supposed American character. America, of course, never had colonies in Africa and in fact was once a colony itself before rebelling. But I digress.
**Amateurs study tactics, professionals study logistics. But villains don't have to be smart or right.
***HOW exactly does some sort of metal make you better or even good at science? It's not like the owners of wootz steel, the closest real-world analog to this super metal, founded famous universities or were renowned for its learning or created airplanes centuries early or anything. If anything, the vibranium, by not acting like other metals, ought to retard the development of the scientific method. But now I'm just nit picking. Like I said, you have to suspend disbelief for superhero movies.
**** I know they want the PG rating and I give them credit for actually killing people in this movie. But a little blood, a gunshot wound or two would go a long way to grounding this and making the bad guys more of a real threat. Also those Black Panther claws are sharp and all but they're only about two inches long. In order to actually kill someone with them, you'd need to do more than just poke your claws into their chest, like when Killmonger's father is killed. You'd need to rip and claw, you know, like a real cat. But that would be hella gory and I get why they didn't do that. I'm just saying, this could have been Deadpool levels of gore if you really wanted to use those claws they way you'd have to to kill someone with them.