I can't wait to be King.
We were given a small glimpse into the world of Black Panther during Captain America: Civil War just a few short years ago. While the character joined the cast in a small but effective supporting role, much occurred to lay the groundwork for his own feature film. With the death of his father, King T'Chaka, the young prince now returns back home to his people as their King, a role he is unsure if he is ready to take on. Black Panther confidently sidesteps the traditional Marvel formula and delivers us a powerful film about legacy, hope, and how power should be wielded. Black Panther is a superb film and what I feel is a huge achievement for not only Black culture but the entire industry.
The Black Panther has been an icon of the Marvel Universe for decades, something normally reserved for characters like Spider-Man, Iron Man, Captain America, and Thor, all of which are white males. While it was insisted that part of the reason that Spider-Man was given a mask was so that young children, regardless of the color of their skin, could imagine that it was them under the costume. While that sentiment is innocent enough, it fades the moment the character removes that mask. Young children of color rarely had powerful comic book icons to represent their culture as while much of the early years of the industry did see several black superheroes, they rarely ever made it into the spotlight.
The past few years have seen a fundamental shift in the comic book industry. We now have a female Thor, a black Spider-Man, and even Falcon adopting the Captain America persona for quite some time. Even the new Miss Marvel, Kamala Kahn, is a Pakistani-American. To adapt and change these characters to suit the many walks of life could be seen as a risky endeavor, is it one that is extremely worthwhile and allows for new and exciting stories to birth from. While the film industry isn't so quick to adapt to such diversity, it has made great strides in not only who can make movies, but the many different ethnicities that can headline them.
Even just a few years ago, many would not have predicted the success of a movie like Black Panther. While the character is fairly well known to the comic book faithful, his popularity isn't on the level as most characters you see on lunch boxes and t-shirts. While a less confident studio would have tasked a white director to bring this movie to the screen, Marvel sought out Ryan Coogler and writer Joe Robert Cole, both black men, to introduce audiences to not only who Black Panther is but the world he inhabits. Coogler, who brought us 2015's Creed, creates a truly beautiful film that genuinely celebrates Black culture in ways that no other big blockbuster movie has ever done.
The anticipation for Black Panther has been a beacon of hope for the Black community and a defining moment for proving a movie like this can be just as successful as your traditional white superhero movie. The teaser trailer for the film alone had 89 million views in the first 24 hours, and presales for tickets to the film exceeded that of any other Marvel film thus far. The hype around the movie was massive and to a people whose culture is rarely ever shown the respect it deserves, this movie needed to succeed. As I write this, the film has brought in a 4-day holiday weekend total of 218 million, an achievement that needs to be said.
We start the film with T'Chaka telling a very young T'Challa about the history of their people and how they came to discover the Vibranium that flows under the very ground of what would eventually be known as Wakanda. It is also here where we discover the secret behind the Black Panther, and where their enhanced strength and agility comes from. The movie is set mere days after the events of Civil War, where a broken and grieving T'Challa has returned back to his people as their now rightful King. Much of the story surrounding Black Panther is around the fact that Wakanda is a secret civilization, known only to the rest of the world as a third world nation, but this is because that is what they want the world to believe. Behind this lie stands the technological marvel, no pun intended, that is Wakanda. The strides they have made with Vibranium have allowed them to surpass every other nation in the world, and that is also the very reason for their secrecy. If the world knew of what Wakanda was truly capable of, would they attempt to take it from them or embrace the help of this technologically advanced civilization?
Black Panther is full of so many captivating and enjoyable characters that it's hard to know where to begin. There's Chadwick Boseman who is the titular character, a man who is merely trying to keep Wakanda and its people safe. Boseman is an extremely talented actor and feels born to play the role. He's joined by Lupita Nyong'o, who plays Nakia, an old flame of T'Challa's and who is a member of the War Dogs, and a Wakandan Spy. There's also Danai Gurira, who fans of the Walking Dead may recognize as Michonne. Here, she plays Okoye, head of T’Challa’s royal guard, and is the general of the Dora Milaje who is honor bound to the throne and is a powerful force not to be taken lightly. Shuri, T'Challa's kid sister, as played by Letitia Wright, was hands down my favorite character of the movie and frankly, one of the best new additions to the MCU. Letitia plays Shuri with a playful charm to joke around with her King brother and cut him down for his choice of footwear or that the tech she makes for him can always be improved, even when it works flawlessly.
Andy Serkis returns as Ulysses Klaue and while his role in the film is minimal, he is still very entertaining to watch. Winston Duke, who plays M'Baku, a character in the comics normally called Man-Ape, was at first what I felt was a throw-away character, boy was I wrong. Duke has a few scenes later on in the movie that really show a depth to the character that I didn't see coming. Martin Freeman, another character introduced in Civil War, is back as Everett Ross, a CIA agent who gets caught up in the political turmoil occurring in Wakanda. While Freeman is some of the comic relief in the movie, and plays the character in typical Martin Freeman fashion, he is the bridge to the outside that world that helps push the film where it needs to go by its conclusion. The film also contains wonderful performances by Sterling K. Brown, Angela Bassett, Forest Whitaker, and Get Out's Daniel Kaluuya.
Lastly, is Michael B. Jordan. While there is much talk about him being the best villain since Loki, and that is certainly not a far-off assessment, the role in which he plays here is something that can't be fully talked about without spoiling certain events. Jordan plays Killmonger, a man who feels as though he should be atop the throne of Wakanda. While he is not present during much of the film, he nails every single scene he is a part of and his backstory really does have you question if he is truly a bad guy or a man looking to protect those like him.
Black Panther is a gorgeous film. Its production and costume designs and Wakanda itself is stunning. While Thor has had three films to make me feel invested in Asgard, I never did, yet Black Panther does it in one. Wakanda is such a visual delight both above the surface as it is below. Everything from the interior to the palace to Shuri's tech lab is wonderfully detailed and some of the best environments in the film. While the aesthetic of Wakanda and its people is stunning, the same cannot be said for its visual effects. The are some great moments here where the film delivers some wonderful effects and costume transitions, but so much of the visual effects in the latter half of the film are painfully bad. The whole fight on the tram system looks cartoony and is incredibly jarring. There is a scene early in the film near a cliffside waterfall that is easily detected as a green screen production and reminds me of the early days of visual effects. As gorgeous as the film can look, much of these effects can almost ruin the scenes they are a part of.
Accentuated by a rhythmic soundtrack that is paired alongside this film with such confidence, Black Panther is one of the most enjoyable Marvel films so far, and a solid stand-alone film in its own right. There are missteps with the visual effects, sure, but the remainder of the film, regardless of it taking place in Wakanda or South Korea, is stunning. Letitia Wright, Danai Gurira, Michael B. Jordan, and of course, Chadwick Boseman give outstanding performances here and are easily some of the most entertaining characters in the MCU. Black Panther is about the celebration and positivity of Black Culture, a uplifting aspect of it we normally don't get to see. While the world it creates is a fictional one, it is rooted in the hopes and dreams of a proud African nation. I'm excited to see this film do well and create positive and strong role models for a culture that rarely sees them featured so prominently in the superhero genre. Black Panther is a stunning achievement of film and culture and it needs to be celebrated.