It is easy to see why Marvel’s newest outing ‘Black Panther’ is both a critical and financial success (and not just because it is the eighteenth installment in the still-going-strong Marvel Cinematic Universe). It is the perfect superhero movie for our troubled times; as timely as it is beautiful and thrilling. The inhabitants of the technologically advanced city of Wakanda are not just an ensemble of talented black actors, they are strong characters who hold their own and never back down from a challenge when the time calls for it, yet they are not portrayed as proud, they are as human as we all are, with regrets, challenges, and choices that lead them to where they are. These elements make up the heart of ‘Black Panther’.
Before I say any more, I need to address the elephant in the room by saying that ‘Black Panther’ is definitely NOT the first black superhero movie in Marvel’s roster (Remember ‘Blade’?), but it may be the first to celebrate the culture (You can correct me if I am wrong). By putting focus on Wakanda’s inhabitants and not relying much on Marvel’s previous installments (especially ‘Captain America: Civil War’ where the titular cat made his debut), director Ryan Coogler (‘Fruitvale Station’, ‘Creed’), who co-wrote the screenplay with Joe Robert Cole, shows us what these characters are capable of and how they are people not to be messed with.
A little Marvel history for you! ‘Black Panther’ started off (as all films in the MCU did) as a comic book character created by famed Marvel writer Stan Lee (who cameos yet again, no doubt) and illustrator Jack Kirby as a character in ‘Fantastic Four’ Issue #52 (July 1966), and making appearances in a few other Marvel comics, until finally becoming the star of 1973’s ‘Jungle Action’ Issue #5 (For those wondering, he may share his name with the African-American political movement founded the same year he was created, but by coincidence only). I had already mentioned that his debut in the MCU was in ‘Captain America: Civil War’, but it was not until this solo outing where the character truly shines.
Chadwick Boseman returns once again as the Black Panther; his real name: T’Challa. From there, it seems unimaginable for anyone to portray the feline superhero. Boseman embodies the character with a sense of fierce determination which makes him perfect to don the seemingly indestructible Vibranium suit (For those who are not up to date on their Marvel history, Vibranium is a metal that was found in a meteor that happened to crash-land in Wakanda, where inhabitants have discovered its power to unleash kinetic energy, which they eventually used for technological purposes). But underneath the powerful suit is a man who is haunted by a choice his late father, T’Chaka (John Kini) made twenty-six years ago; there is even a dream sequence where T’Challa confronts his father about it.
Come to think about it, ‘Black Panther’ is not your average Marvel movie. Underneath its stylistic action sequences are elements and a story that feel Shakespearean. After we see the Marvel Studios banner, we are introduced to T’Challa as he finds out about his father’s passing causing him to go back to Wakanda to claim the throne (but not without kicking an ass or two). From then on, we are introduced to his family and friends, which include his mother, Queen Ramonda (Angela Bassett), his sister Shuri (Letitia Wright), who provides the film’s comic relief, his ex-lover, Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o), who constantly bickers with him in a sort-of-Beatrice-and-Benedick way, his best friend/confidant, W’kabi (‘Get Out’s Daniel Kaluuya), the headstrong Okoye (Danai Gurira), who is also W’kabi’s lover, and Zuri (Forest Whitaker), an elder.
To top it all off is a villain in the form of Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan in a supporting role this time around), a Black Ops soldier who undergoes terrorist attacks with arms dealer Ulysses Klau (Andy Serkis). As a Shakespearean villain, Killmonger’s goal is to kill T’Challa for something that happened. Though he may be a bad guy that does bad things, Killmonger has a layer that makes his motivations understandable.
Fans of ‘The Lord of the Rings’ should also know that both Serkis and Martin Freeman make an on-screen appearance together in an interrogation scene.