by CJ Wilson
Like with every Marvel film, many fans have been awaiting the newest installment that would shape the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Even after 10 years of building up this cinematic universe, Marvel always manages to break the traditional comic book mold by focusing on superheroes that the general public doesn’t usually know. Hence why Marvel has now released the newest film in the franchise: Black Panther. Not only does Black Panther provide one of the first major African-American superheroes to appear on the big screen, it also establishes a world defined by African culture that most movies wouldn’t normally depict. With strong character development, amazing action scenes, and a fully realized world, Black Panther delivers on these promises in spades.
The movie itself establishes the dynamics of many of the characters featured including Black Panther (played by Chadwick Boseman). While it does gloss over the origins of Black Panther, it still maintains the development of his character. For example, T’Challa’s motivation in becoming Black Panther continues to grow after the tragic loss of his father, T’Chaka, despite this event having occurred in one of the more recent Marvel movies, Captain America: Civil War.
Furthermore, Black Panther introduces the allies that T’Challa has by his side. One of them is Nakia (played by Lupita Nyong’o), T’Challa’s former girlfriend and a War Dog (an undercover spy for Wakanda placed in other countries). While it does only mention the former relationship between her and T’Challa, you do see her rekindle the romance by supporting T’Challa once he becomes of the ruler of the nation Wakanda.
Then you have Okoye (played by Danai Gurira), an “extremely proud” Wakandan who is the head of the Dora Milaje, the all-female special forces of Wakanda who serve as T’Challa’s bodyguard. She displays her combat prowess with her spear, with which she gives some of the best fight scenes in the film. Her character also displays a personality that gets some laughs, because she doesn’t get American culture.
But Shuri (played by Letitia Wright) is probably my favorite out of the main cast, besides Black Panther. Shuri is T’Challa’s younger sister, who provides many of the upgrades and gadgets that Black Panther uses when he is out in the field while supporting the country of Wakanda. Her appreciation for American culture shines through as she hands out some of the funniest jokes throughout the entire film.
A story of royalty and conflicting ideologies
While the story of Black Panther does deal with T’Challa struggling to become the ruler of Wakanda and wondering what he can do to support his people, there is also the conflict of dealing with Ulysses Klaue (played by Andy Serkis). But he also has to deal with Marvel’s most compelling villain yet: Erik Killmonger (played by Michael B. Jordan). Erik’s plan is to expose Wakanda to the rest of the world by taking over Wakanda and distributing much of the vibranium-based technology and weaponry to the poorer countries in the world. That way, those other countries won’t have to face many of the social and racial hardships that Erik had to go through when he lived in the United States. This makes Killmonger’s arc illuminate the larger, real-world issues that the film explores with isolationism, social justice, and colonialism which all add up to make Black Panther the most timely and politically important movie that Marvel has made yet.
Much of this motivation coming from Erik provides some of the most compelling character moments between T’Challa and himself, since they are technically related, and they have conflicting ideologies over what they want to accomplished as kings of Wakanda. In many ways, you almost agree to a certain extent with what Erik wants to do even knowing that Erik became a psychotic mercenary. What T’Challa gets from this growing tension from Erik is a better understanding of what his priorities are as a king but to also provide to other countries that are allied with him in the United Nations, even if they don’t know that Wakanda is one of the most technologically advanced civilizations in the world.
The story also does a great job of establishing the country of Wakanda. Even though the country was referenced in past Marvel films, Wakanda is shown throughout the entirety of Black Panther in all of its glory. While it does embrace much of the culture and ideas that come from Africa, it still forms an identify by featuring advanced technology that has shaped the lifestyles of many of its citizens. Many of Wakanda’s citizens are organized in distinctive tribes that create the political structure that surrounds Wakanda as a whole.
The film does have some pacing problems with a slow start at the beginning and some scenes dragging more than others. However, it still manages to kick into high gear once the action begins its course. Overall, the film succeeds in finding its footing as being both a fun ride and a deeply emotional journey.
A lot of the action scenes are filmed in effortless fashion that highlights many of the abilities that Black Panther has throughout the film. While some of the side characters like Shuri and Okoye do perform some of the action that certainly makes up the high points of the film, Black Panther displays his unique abilities that come from his vibranium-based suit at the best parts. For example, during a car chase that takes place in South Korea, T’Challa in his Black Panther suit absorbs the kinetic energy that he gets from getting shot by the bad guys, and then he releases the energy which causes the car that he was holding to flip over. This is where the film excels: showcasing action that is displayed through the advanced capabilities of the Black Panther suit.
Precisely curated music
Throughout the film, Black Panther heavily relies on its music. A lot of the tracks are performed using traditional African beats with drums and percussion along with contemporary rap and hip-hop melodies. The soundtrack is curated by rap artist Kendrick Lamar, which brings Black Panther a uniqueness that is missing from all of the other Marvel films. Many of the tracks being played get you excited for what happens next, especially when it comes to the action scenes. Finally, the music brings many of the ancient traditions of Africa but similar enough to other soundtracks from the Marvel Cinematic Universe that audience members can still be emotionally invested.
Image: Electric Bento
Overall, Black Panther succeeds as an excellent entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It delivers on being an action adventure film, a political statement, and a celebration of African culture. While the film does start off a bit stagnant, the cast’s performances and emotional themes keep the film on the path in becoming an entertaining ride.