(Originally written on February 21, 2018)
Ever since it was announced the character of Black Panther would receive his own film in the MCU, there was undoubtedly a wave of anticipation from fans. Subtle hints were already being placed within previous films in the franchise, and the character’s appearance in “Captain America: Civil War” certainly whetted many fans’ curiosity and interest (myself included). Even before the movie’s release, there was a plethora of positive buzz surrounding it, and for good reason too. Many had faith in director Ryan Coogler, as well as the strong cast. But does it live up to the hype? I can confidently say it does, despite some of its problems.
What I noticed from the beginning, and appreciated, is how Black Panther combines the old with the modern in a way that captures the essence of both. The portrayal of a culture (though a fictional one) is done with much respect to its real world references. I am by no means an expert on this, nor am I of African descent, but even someone like me could see the amount of energy and care the cast and crew put into wanting to bring such a vibrant and rich culture to life.
And I think this is what makes the film so entertaining. It is a celebration of the African spirit, presenting both triumphs and defeats. The other reason that made me enjoy this movie is how the story focuses on a more personal conflict, not being weighed down by the larger [Marvel] universe surrounding it.
Taking place not too long after the events of Captain America: Civil War, T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) finds himself having to step into the role as king of Wakanda after his father’s death. In the midst of this transition, he must deal with outside forces threatening the sanctity of his nation, as well as internal struggles on how to push forward not only as king but also as just a man.
Though the base story may seem very straightforward (mainly because I didn’t want to share any major plot points), the ideas and perspectives put forth in the film leave you with something to think about. Questions like ‘Does one forge their own path or continue on with what came before?’ and ‘Are certain actions justified?’ came to mind for me, among others. In addition, it is evident how the movie presents its opinions concerning issues like politics and social inequality. While I do commend the director for doing it in a way that doesn’t beat you over the head with it, I felt some of it worked while at other times it felt like it was being pushed right in your face.
(Please don’t misunderstand: I do think these social issues are important, but I never want to find myself thinking “Yeah, I get it…” in an unenthused manner.)
As I mentioned earlier, the cast is a great selection of talent. While Boseman shows he can portray a man dealing with the heavy burden of proving himself worthy of leading a nation, I thoroughly enjoyed watching the female cast members more.
Danai Gurira as Okoye, the head of the Dora Milaje (the king’s bodyguards, somewhat akin to the Amazons from “Wonder Woman”), a stoic warrior who is fiercely loyal to her nation. Lupita Nyong’o as Nakia, a spy of sorts whose actions and words always carry the weight of conviction behind them. Letitia Wright as Shuri, T’Challa’s younger sister who is always wanting to innovate, but always has time to banter with her brother.In my opinion, how women are presented in Black Panther is fantastic. They are strong, intelligent, caring and are fully capable of holding their own.
Martin Freeman returns as agent Everrett Ross (from Captain America: Civil War) in another minor but welcome role, and Andy Serkis returns as Ulysses Klaue (from Avengers: Age of Ultron) but to my disappointment isn’t given much to do.
The highlight for me was Michael B. Jordan as the villain. It is no secret that many of the Marvel films struggled with how to portray a compelling adversary for the hero, with many pointing to Loki as the only memorable villain thus far. I’d like to think there are now two great Marvel villains from the movies now (at least until Infinity War).
What is shown with Black Panther is a dichotomy between two men in regards to upbringing, worldview and methodology. While I didn’t agree with the actions this villain took, I certainly understood the reasoning behind it all and perhaps also the frustrations he felt. His views are extremely impactful, to the point where they challenge T’Challa’s own on how to do things. I think a great villain is one that challenges the hero not just physically, but also intellectually and emotionally. I believe we are given someone like that in this film.
Overall, though I did have one or two minor issues with it, I really enjoyed Black Panther. The actions scenes are creative, the nation of Wakanda is a marvel to experience, and the story works because it is on a more personal level. Add to that a musical score that incorporates both traditional African tribal beats and modern hip-hop influences. Oh, and there are some good moments of humour too!
I highly recommend you watch it.
- A. Shin