More than a Marvel comic film
Black Panther seems to have exploded across the movie reviewing and analyzing world, captivating critics and audiences alike as the first superhero movie with a black man in the headlining role. While I cannot speak to the emotions many people of color have described upon seeing a big-budget African superhero, I’m delighted to agree the movie is a success. I’m even willing to say director Ryan Coogler has crafted a triumph for women in a genre that is traditionally male-centric fare.
This is no cardboard megalomania story or simple quest for world domination. The scars of colonialism still mutilate Africa.
When terrorists kill his father, crown prince T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) becomes king of Wakanda, an ostensibly impoverished African country hiding a powerful secret: thanks to their rich vibranium mines, they have gorgeous, prosperous cities and so much cool technology it’s like magic. (Vibranium is a Marvel-invented element supposed to be the strongest in the world, in addition to its other powerful properties.) As leader of this amazing world, T’Challa also has the power of the Black Panther: superhuman strength and agility, plus a high-tech bulletproof catsuit. But when the leaders of the group who killed his father and stole a large amount of vibranium—arms dealer Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis) and a rogue U.S. black ops soldier (Michael B. Jordan) strike again, T’Challa assembles his A-team and goes after them.
His A-team is three women. Yes, three women, and they more than hold their own in the fight against Klaue. Wakandan special forces leader Okoye (Danai Gurira) and T’Challa’s longtime love interest Nakita (Lupita Nyong’o) go after the villains themselves when T’Challa gets bogged down in a fight, and the women don’t need an ounce of rescuing. I can’t tell you how awesome it was to see women make so many great moves and win so many laughs without being gratuitous eye candy. As for the third woman on the team, T’Challa’s sister practically runs away with the movie.
The relationship that Shuri (Letitia Wright) has with her brother T’Challa is the most captivating pairing onscreen. The brother-sister dynamic is so real and funny that you never doubt their love for each other. They come across as people you’d want to hang out with in real life. It doesn’t hurt that Shuri oozes charisma, drops the best lines, and develops the coolest tech.
A hero story is nothing without a great villain, and both Serkis and Jordan step up to brilliantly written roles. This is no cardboard megalomania story or simple quest for world domination. The scars of colonialism still mutilate Africa, and the villains wrestle with the same thing many Wakandan leaders do: What does Wakanda owe to Africa? To the rest of the world? As Nakita muses, how can it—a first-world country with more potential power than the UN Security Council member states—stand by in hiding, hoarding its prosperity and protecting itself when people all around the world who look just like them struggle for food and shelter?
Black Panther does not shy from the hard questions. It locks horns with the legacy of slavery and Jim Crow in America, slave trading in Africa, colonialism, and greed, and it even takes subtle jabs at white saviorism. The fact that it does all this while being enormously entertaining and providing a visual feast of colors, African drumming, and rhinos is nothing short of remarkable. I found some of the battle elements difficult to suspend disbelief (how can a person be thrown 30 feet in the air and land without broken bones?), but that’s nothing new in a Marvel film. What is new is the focus, and the fact that this is not just the story of a superhero; it’s the story of the people around him and the world they wish to change.
Black Panther is rated PG-13 for prolonged sequences of action violence, and a brief rude gesture.
All reviews express the opinions of the reviewer, not necessarily the views of Third Way.