The latest chapter in the current Marvel phase of films accomplishes so much more than just carry the torch ushering the start of the superhero films of 2018. In this film, the king of Wakanda not only get his coronation but earns his place in cinematic royalty as well.
Black Panther, which was written and directed by the acclaimed Ryan Coogler, stars Chadwick Boseman (42, Get On Up, Marshall) as T’Challa, who is about to be crowned king of Wakanda. This secret nation lies in the heart of Africa shielded from the view of the rest of the world, thriving independently with advanced technology and economy more futuristic than anywhere else on Earth. At first, it seemed to be a role that he would easily fulfill considering he was trained and prepped for it since birth. He quickly found that with such roles as the leader of a nation, many problems will arise ranging from determining the future of his people to dealing with the past mistakes of previous kings. This includes challenges to his throne which arrive in the form of, and portrayed brilliantly by, Michael B. Jordan’s (Chronicle, Fruitvale Station, Creed) Erik “Killmonger” Stevens.
Although the argument can be made that this is just a movie and the goal will always be first and foremost the profitability of the superhero and the genre, this film speaks volumes to audiences and takes a very direct approach to relate elements of the story to current worldly issues. No matter how simple the plot may seem, it is layered with real undertones, themes and messages that relate to today’s world in a way that does not seem preachy nor commercialized. It is a statement. It fundamentally shows that even though this story and all the places and people within it may be fictional, it still can succeed admirably in representing current social responsibilities and injustices. Coogler does this on a very conscious level throughout Black Panther.
I confess that I very rarely find myself drawn movies that tend to consist primarily of elaborate set pieces and their emphasis on humor over anything else. This has become a staple for most superhero films within Marvel as well as others franchises. I am always more intrigued with the complexity of the characters and their growth that takes shape within the film more so than the CGI glitz and glam. Thankfully, each and every character in Panther has a moment that encapsulates their drive and motives, clearly defining who they are. This is absolutely necessary in creating real depth and emotion without sacrificing their integrity through unneeded or predictable stereotypes.
In turn, this creates the best Marvel villain since the likes of Loki in the Thor/Avengers franchise. Jordan’s Killmonger is a man of multiple layers with one main goal that makes you question the logic and reasoning of the titular hero and the nation he represents. To the side eye views of many in the audience near me, I myself applauded an action Killmonger takes at one point in the movie largely because it depicted the conviction in his character so extremely vividly. His drive to achieve his own goals leading to his becoming an immediate threat to the great nation of Wakanda and the world as a whole was done so in a very enticing, passionate and empowering way (not seen since Tupac’s portrayal of Bishop from 1992’s Juice).
All in all, Marvel’s Black Panther is Coogler’s third feature length film and continues to prove how much of a beast the relative new writer/director is. You can tell he took his time to make sure the script was meaningful and realistic. The world is believable and feels lived in while being doused in vibrant colors from set piece to set piece. He put painstaking detail into bringing the best team to help his visions come to life. Be it through the diverse wardrobes to the magnificent architecture and design, they all serve to compliment and unify the overall beautiful esthetic. The film never feels cheaply done. But, possibly the biggest element that I unabashedly feel extremely proud of, is to have seen an African American led and majority cast film that had very little to no stereotypical “black” cliché such as those that have plagued cinematic history since its inception. I felt represented, treated with respect and truly believe that you will feel the same.
Did I see or have any negatives things to note? Sure. Were there moments where the CG wasn’t as strong as in others? Definitely. Was the pacing a little miss at times? Arguably. But at the end of it all, there is so much that the film does right that the errors shouldn’t take up your time worrying about. Everything, from the musical score to the action sequences to the representation of the strength and beauty of all the women in the film should be celebrated more than examining the few blemishes on an otherwise perfect blockbuster experience. Black Panther is definitely a celebration of “Black Excellence”.