Black Panther: Gold Medal Winner
In 1966, Marvel Comics introduced American audiences to the first ever African superhero. Although he started as a guest on an issue of “The Fantastic Four,” he would eventually be awarded his own series called “Black Panther.” 50 years later, the Black Panther made his silver screen debut in Captain America: Civil War, and was considered one of the best parts of the movie (despite having a relatively minor role). The bar was certainly set high for the Black Panther solo film, but judging by its already incredible box office success, it looks like they not only made it over that bar, but won the gold medal, too.
Upon seeing Black Panther, I was surprised at how much they managed to include in the 2 hour 14 minute run time. The movie takes place right after the events of Civil War, so T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) is still dealing with fallout from those events. His father is dead, and he must take up the mantle of the King and the Black Panther. Also, Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis), an old enemy of Wakanda, is on the loose, and hunting him brings T’Challa into conflict with the CIA. All of that is happening even before the main conflict of the movie takes form. Even with so much going on, the film maintains a solid pace, and the writers effectively connect the seemingly unrelated subplots over the course of the movie.
Most of the characters are new, with the exception of T’Challa, Klaue, and Agent Ross (Martin Freeman) — none of whom were given much time to shine in their previous films. Fortunately, the writers do a great job of developing both new and old characters. We get a sense of the history between T’Challa and surrounding characters: Zuri (Forest Whitaker), Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o), a woman who fights for those in need and has T’Challa smitten, and an elderly priest who was a friend of his father. We see that Klaue is truly a maniac, and that Agent Ross is truly a bore. I love Martin Freeman, but he added nothing to the movie except being the token confused white guy.
Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) is a clear fan favorite. With the exception of Loki, Marvel has always gotten some flak for having very basic, uninteresting villains. Killmonger bucks the trend with great wit and surprisingly logical reasoning for his actions. He knows that black people all over the world have been oppressed for centuries, and that Wakanda, secretly the most advanced nation on Earth, does nothing to help. Killmonger believes it is time for Wakanda to help the oppressed overthrow the oppressors. However, T’Challa believes it is safer for the people of Wakanda to keep their advancements a secret. Like in Civil War, neither side is entirely right or wrong, making the conflict between Killmonger and T’Challa morally dense. Furthermore, the hotheaded Killmonger is a foil for the stoic T’Challa — hammered home by stellar performances from Boseman and Jordan.
However, the real show-stealer of Black Panther is Wakanda itself. The country combines futuristic, sci-fi technology with ancient, mystic rituals to create something truly unique. The visual effects are absolutely stunning, and I found myself wanting to know more about the customs and lore of the land. Marvel really should get started on making a TV series about Wakanda’s history.
Ironically, the biggest problem with Black Panther is also its greatest asset within the film: Vibranium. We got a sense that the indestructible metal was meant for more than making shields back in Age of Ultron, but the Vibranium amp gets turned up to 11 in this film. It can be used for weapons, healing, communication, transportation, and pretty much everything else. One would think that a team of scientists would be working round the clock to make such advancements possible, but it’s actually all thanks to one teenage girl. To me, this seems like lazy writing. They essentially wanted Shuri (Letitia Wright) to be the Q to T’Challa’s James Bond, and while they were at it, put in her in charge of all the technology in the most advanced nation on Earth. If you thought Tony Stark was overpowered, you ain’t seen nothing yet.
Overall, Black Panther stands out by not relying on the world-building of the other Marvel movies. While there are a few connections, the film mostly creates its own characters and world, and raises the question: if you have the power to act, should you?
Final Score: 7/10