With its 18th entry to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Marvel struck gold.
Since its announcement in 2014, Ryan Coogler’s “Black Panther“ was easily the most anticipated movie in the Marvel series. The ambitious decision to center a film around a black superhero was a first for Marvel. Luckily, they have had 10 years of experience in making superhero movies, ever since “Iron Man” hit the screen in 2008. It pays off well. Despite that it is difficult for a movie to live up to such high expectations, Marvel delivered what they promised: spectacle, bad-ass action, and a black superhero that viewers can look up to.
Almost two years after Black Panther’s first appearance in “Captain America: Civil War,” we finally get the story of T’Challa, King of Wakanda. From the outside, Wakanda appears to be impoverished and hardly worth the notice of the Western world. This is exactly the sort of image the people of Wakanda want. For lo and behold, this is all just a facade: Wakanda is actually a super high tech country. Its technology is easily two to three hundred years in the future of anything we have ever seen in the cinematic world of Marvel. The story follows T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman), who is ceremoniously coronated the new king after the death of his father. Hardly has his reign begun, however, when a new threat arises from the outside world. Marvel’s most complex villain yet, Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) who has made it his purpose to take the throne and use Wakanda’s technology to better the lives of the black community he grew up in.
So far, this does not sound too different from your usual Marvel movie. There’s the hero, the villain, the struggle for power. It’s a good story. There are some Shakespearean vibes with themes of revenge, responsibility, and the struggle between good and evil. Add to that a good dose of drama, excitement, humor, and plenty of visual effects. The plot itself is solid, but it isn’t what makes “Black Panther” what it is. It is everything around the plot.
The first thing we notice about “Black Panther” is the sheer effort that Marvel has put into world-building. Forget Thor’s Asgard or the many worlds of “Guardians of the Galaxy.” Wakanda easily surpasses them all. As the plot of “Black Panther” gradually develops, we are introduced to the entirety of Wakandan culture, which includes everything from its own cultural history to mythology, traditions, customs, music, clothing, and ideology, let alone its incredible technology. While it is heavily inspired by various African cultures, it does so without feeling as if it is appropriating it.
What truly makes “Black Panther” stand out are the surprisingly mature social issues tackled within the film. Despite being depicted as the villain, Killmonger has some relevant points. His concerns are about real social problems, such as poverty and racism. It is easy to understand where he is coming from and why he sees the world in such a bleak way. Like T’Challa, we as the audience are forced to think about whether the traditional course of action is truly the right way to handle such problems or whether we finally need a new approach. It could hardly be more relevant to our time, for whatever way you look at it there is no easy answer.
The heart of “Black Panther” is ultimately the actors. Next to Boseman and Jordan, the star-studded cast includes the likes of Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Letitia Wright and Daniel Kaluuya. Marvel usually does a good job with casting, but these actors are exceptionally well chosen. Seemingly effortlessly, they balance humor and seriousness and overall they are a joy to watch. Luckily, with the incredible success of “Black Panther,” there is bound to be a sequel or two.
In the meantime, here are some other movies you can check out:
- “Get Out” (Jordan Peele, 2017)
Almost as culturally significant as “Black Panther,” this horror movie deals with race and isn’t shy with its message. It was an Oscar nominee for Best Picture, and Daniel Kaluuya (who also acts in “Black Panther”) is the star in this movie. Hopefully this is only the beginning of Kaluuya’s career on the big screen.
- “Hancock” (Peter Berg, 2008)
Although “Black Panther” is the first black Marvel superhero, there was another movie about a black superhero a few years back. Will Smith plays Hancock, a hero down on his luck. With the help of Jason Bateman, however, he finds renewed vigor in his vigilantism. It is a fun movie and it has some heartwarming scenes. Plus, Will Smith gets to kick some ass.
- “Yeelen” (Souleymane Cissé, 1987)
This movie from Mali has widely been heralded to be one of the best of African cinema. Similarly to “Black Panther,” the story revolves around royal family conflicts. There is magic, there is mythology, and although it is a bit slow, it is a very rewarding film.
Featured photo credit to Marvel.