“Black Panther” is everything all Marvel films before it have not been: black, proud, regal, with a strong political message, and it is fantastic! And I want to be clear about something- “Black Panther” is 100% Director Ryan Coogler’s film…it just happens to have Marvel superheroes, not vice versa and it pays off in spades. With gorgeous visuals (thanks to Academy Award nominee cinematographer Rachel Morrison) from Wakanda to South Korea and back, royal Afrocentric costumes vivid and bold, and the support of some pretty bad-ass women, Black Panther is progressive, exciting, enveloping, and exactly what we all need in our lives right now.
The film begins right where “Captain America: Civil War” left off, T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) returns home to Wakanda, a country hidden from the world where science and technology reign supreme, to take his place as King, after his father, King T’Chaka, was killed in a bombing at the Vienna International Centre. While Black Panther, the hero, may have joined the other Avengers to save the world, T’Challa the King wrestles with the weight of being a world leader- how to keep his people safe, how to ensure that no outsiders get access to their most valuable asset- Vibranium, and if the ancient philosophy of keeping their assets hidden, not helping others outside of Wakanda, is truly the right thing to do. Little does he know, that halfway around the world, an MIT-educated former black-ops soldier (and HOT, like- scorchingly HAWT), Eric Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) with a little help from Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis), is getting ready to challenge T’Challa and Wakanda’s ways of life.
I can write 2,000 words alone about the importance of seeing black people in roles beyond that of housemaids, slaves or gang members, but I won’t because I shouldn’t have to say it. The fact that T’Challa isn’t just a hero, but royalty, and that the entire cast are all brilliant, bad-ass, and elegant is something historic and the fact that it took getting to 2018 to see that is sad, but nonetheless celebratory.
The women of Wakanda? Okoye (Danai Gurira), Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o), Queen Ramonda (Angela Bassett), Shuri (Letitia Wright- who steals the show anytime she is onscreen) and the Dora Milaje women are not only fully fleshed out characters, but their scenes brought the same tears to my eyes that the No Man’s Land sequence in ‘Wonder Woman’ did. As a woman of color myself, I know how often we are seen in films- the “sassy” friend, the token, the other. But, what I watched on that big screen was women on equal footing, viewed for their skill and smarts and above all- viewed as people.
For me, what can really make or break a superhero film is the villain. You want the audience to actively root for them to fail, but Killmonger also makes you question what truly makes a villain. I mean, we know Michael B. Jordan is talented, but he gives Killmonger a layer that truly makes this villain a standout in the Marvel franchise (and yes, I am now in love with him- get in line ladies!).
Yes, Black Panther is fun and just as the 17 Marvel films before it, it sticks to a Marvel bible for their characters and villains. While it doesn’t contain as many action packed scenes that say, ‘Captain America: Civil War’ may have, what it does have- specifically that car chase in South Korea, it excels at. And, just as other origin films before it, it does have some pacing issues and some of the CGI is a bit less stellar than we may be accustomed to, but overall, the vibrancy of it’s story and the love for these characters that most of us only imagined seeing in our lifetimes, surpasses whatever flaws it may have and makes for a truly enjoyable beginning and I hope Marvel gives T’Challa a few more films, to really bring the audience into Wakanda and more.