Batman. Superman. Spider-Man. Iron Man. Captain America.
All great, iconic characters. Just one catch. None of them look like me…
Until Black Panther came along.
Black Panther is unlike anything I’ve seen in the 10 year history of Marvel Studios. It’s a film that’s not too concerned with the long-running story of the Infinity Stones and that autonomy is a huge strength. It also boasts a murderer’s row ensemble cast of actors of color and it’s directed by Ryan Coogler (Fruitvale Station, Creed).
It takes place about a week after Captain America: Civil War where T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) lays his claim to the throne of the secretive nation of Wakanda.
Right from the jump, Black Panther looks and feels different. Wakanda looks staggering. It’s an Afro-futurist utopia hidden from the eyes of colonialism that represents the juxtapostiion of technological advance and traditionalism. The astral plane scenes are some captivating eye candy. The costume design oozes authenticity. The Dora Milaje, in particular, look amazing!
It also boasts some thought-provoking social commentary as the characters wrestle with the idea of whether Wakanda, for all it’s riches and advances, could help out less fortunate countries or to stay isolated from the rest of the world.
While the themes are loaded with weight, At it’s core, it’s still a Marvel movie and it knows how to have fun. The action sequences, despite some iffy VFX, are fantastic, the South Korea 007-like casino sequence in particular echoes that long tracking shot from Creed and it’s complemented by a killer soundtrack by Kendrick Lamar.
Chadwick Boseman brings a more nuanced T’Challa. He’s a king, first and foremost and a superhero second. Much of his arc is about what kind of king he wants to be. Danai Gurira’s a force of nature as Okoye, the Dora Milaje’s leader. She commands the screen every time she’s there. Lupita N’yongo’s Nakia challenges Wakanda’s traditions as she feels that it can do more. Forest Whitaker’s Zuri pulls the door open to the mysticism of the land. Letitia Wright, who plays T’Challa’s sister, Shuri, is a breakout character in a film that’s littered with a lot of them. Her and Boseman’s chemistry is one of the best things about Black Panther. Angela Basset’s Ramonda, doesn’t get a lot to do here, but she makes her screen-time count.
“…they knew that death was better than bondage”
Once Erik Killmonger (Coogler favorite Michael B. Jordan) enters the picture. Everything gets raised an extra step. A lot of Killmonger’s rage towards Wakanda speaks to a deeper truth about African-Americans who’ve lost touch with their lineage and his views, despite how extremist they are, makes you sympathize with him. It’s a huge breath of fresh air having a Marvel villain that isn’t after a piece of treasure or world domination, he wants his people to succeed by any means necessary and his arc directly contrasts with T’Challa’s. Ulysses Klaw (Andy Serkis) is used a lot better here than in Age of Ultron as he gets to chew a lot of scenery opposite Everett Ross (Martin Freeman).
“In times of crisis, the wise build bridges while the foolish build walls”
Black Panther is as Shakespearean as it gets. It’s an unapologetically authentic celebration of African culture that has something to say. It breaks molds, glass ceilings, and it buries a litany of Hollywood myths about films with a cast of actors of color. I got to feel what others that aren’t the same skin tone get to feel every single time.
It’s truly something special and I’ll remember Wakanda…forever.