With 18 films and more in production, Marvel Studios is aware something new might be needed to keep things fresh and profitable. Black Panther is such an attempt, a distinctive vision that deals not only with a superhero originating from a fictional African nation but also deciding to wade into politics and issues of justice. It is a bold attempt, to say the least, and one that largely succeeds not only in this but also making an entertaining superhero movie as well.
T’Challa in the light of his father’s death returns home to Wakanda to be crowned the new King and to take the mantle of hero and protector of its people in the form of the Black Panther. Yet family secrets force him to question the type of King he will be and challenge his claim to the throne.
Superficially Black Panther is simply a great superhero film. It has a clear and unique vision of the story it wants to tell. Its setting in the fictional African nation of Wakanda is something that informs the whole production of music, to colour, to tribal and political structure and more. Yet Wakanda is a nation hiding its strength and technology from the outside world and so this high tech yet distinctly African city is also a curiosity for the moviegoer.
It also manages to correct a few wrongs of previous Comic book films. Its action is generally up close and personal. Spears, swords and gadgets are designed to be used up close rather and don’t suffer computer-generated spectacle we are used to. The big set piece in Busan, South Korea feels more like a James Bond sequence with a superhero twist than the usual fair. It all feels much more watchable.
The other righted wrong is the use of an interesting and somewhat sympathetic villain in Erik Killmonger. It would be fair to say that some excellent actors/actresses have played villains and suffered dull stories or cover-ups in special effect that any performance has largely been rendered mute. Michael B. Jordan delivers an excellent and charismatic performance here yet the story around him of family tragedy and violence makes him sympathetic, and his problems with Wakanda’s isolationism makes sense. It’s so refreshing that at times if it wasn’t for his cruelty and anger you would be on his side.
There are a plethora of wonderful actors besides Jordan throughout from veterans like Forest Whittaker and Angela Bassett to younger rising stars like Lupita Nyong’o, Chadwick Boseman and Daniel Kaluuya. Most characters have something fascinating to say about the world in which they live. None of them feels like dead weight. It helps that writing allows for solid character development for these actors to portray although it does feel weighted towards the male characters and some female characters feel lacking in dimension in comparison.
Black Panther’s most surprising elements is that it wades into some profound and political issues. This becomes apparent when one of its opening sequences deals with militias, women being forced into slavery and child soldiers. It’s not long after that a white character is referred to as a ‘coloniser.’ Black Panther wants to say something about the world’s problem, about staying isolated from them, from sharing wealth while others suffer. The film does this with quite a straight face and it works without feeling forced. Yet its hard not to snigger when you realise this is a film made by a multi-billion-dollar corporation who I’m sure could make a larger contribution to the aid of those in economic need not just play it for entertainment.
In the end, the politics or even the appropriation of African culture seems tasteful and apart from trained war Rhinos never feels like it’s condescending. It’s an impressive feat given an inability by mainstream Hollywood to celebrate diversity or culture.
Black Panther Review Cheat Sheet
Black Panther is a bright and an entertaining comic book movie. It’s is filled with great characters and a delightfully well realised Wakanda. It attempts to say something important about the world we live in while celebrating culture and diversity. It’s lack of self-awareness of its corporate production partner and an underdevelopment of female characters are its only minor missteps. Between Thor: Ragnarok and this, Marvel is taking risks and succeeding at them. Awesome stuff.
+Great casting filled with fascinating characters.
+A delightfully colourful world filled with music and character.
+Action is exciting yet consequential.
+Delves into bigger global and political issues than just superhero stuff.
+An actual well written, interesting and solidly acted villain.
-Fails to be self-aware when dealing with global issues that it’s a film made by Disney/Marvel
-Underdeveloped female characters.
-War Rhinos ?!?