The first Marvel movie of the year, Black Panther has been much anticipated by fans around the globe. A continuation of the story that started in Captain America: Civil War, this film follows Prince T’Challa (the Black Panther) as he ascends to become King of Wakanda. This will be a spoiler-free review.
The film picks up the story arc of Prince T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) after his role in Captain America: Civil War. T’Challa returns to Wakanda to become King after his father T’Chaka (John Kani) died. At the coronation ceremony, the would-be Wakandan King must accept any challenges by contenders for the throne. Any such challenger then duels the would-be King for the rights to the throne. Despite being challenged by a rival tribe leader, T’Challa perseveres and assumes the throne. He then must decide what type of king he is going to be: past kings of Wakanda have kept the kingdom isolated, but in a changing world T’Challa believes that Wakanda may need to change its policies to adapt.
In sole possession of vibranium, the world’s strongest material, Wakanda has the potential to make a huge difference in the world, for better or worse. And when the weapons dealer Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis) smuggles vibranium out of Wakanda, T’Challa realizes that the Klaue’s actions have endangered Wakanda and the rest of the world. T’Challa tracks him to South Korea with his ex, Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o) and the elite head of his royal guards, Okoye (Danai Gurira). Together, the three Wakandans take on Klaue in a fast-paced shootout and pursuit scene, finally catching him only to lose him a day later when he is freed by his ally Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan).
Killmonger, after gaining valuable insight from Klaue, goes to Wakanda to reveal his connections to the throne and challenge T’Challa for the right to rule. His actions usurp the hierarchy of the kingdom and lead to an ongoing armed struggle for the throne.
Let’s take a look at some of the strengths and weaknesses of the movie.
Engaging, Different Flavor of Marvel
If there’s one thing Marvel seems to excel at, it’s genre blending. Every Marvel movie is a superhero movie, but Marvel keeps the films fresh by pairing the superhero genre with one or more genres to create a unique blend. Captain America was a superhero war movie, and Guardians of the Galaxy a superhero space movie. Black Panther once again brings a new blend of genres, showing us a superhero movie set in East Africa. The unique culture of Wakanda makes for an interesting and fresh movie.
As a white American I can’t speak with any kind of authority on all of the political messages that saturate this movie, but I did observe that there were several recurring themes specific to people of African heritage in addition to themes more applicable to the world at large. A frequent debate among Wakandan officials is how they should interact with the rest of the world: help the world without seeking profit, or rule the world in order to help it? Should we keep to ourselves or should we broadcast the abilities that Wakandan vibranium is capable of? T’Challa’s advisor W’Kabi (Daniel Kaluuya) comments that eventually, the world will consists only of conquerors and conquered; and he would rather be the former than latter. Killmonger talks of ancestral slavery and of being a warrior rather than a servant. T’Challa and other Wakandan officials wrestle with what it means to be a Wakandan. These themes are thick throughout the film, and I think the story handles these themes well, providing food for thought during and after the movie.
On that note, one of my personal favorite scenes comes at the end of one of the fight sequences when a powerful warrior bows in submission to a black woman. The power of that image is not discussed in the film itself, but the symbolism is clear and still applicable to today’s world.
Erik Killmonger, the key antagonist of the film, has a relatable origin story, having worked his way up from virtually nothing to the warrior he became, capable of challenging T’Challa for the throne. Killmonger even comments before their duel: “I’ve been dreaming of this moment my whole life.” I appreciated Killmonger’s backstory, as his relatable story made him a sympathetic villain, which made the movie much stronger overall.
All the Classic Marvel Moments
There are certain moments that everyone expects in a Marvel movie, too among them the Stan Lee cameo and multiple end credit scenes. Each of these moments were well-executed and delivered everything a Marvel fan could hope for.
Black Panther had an admittedly predictable storyline. I personally did not find this a problem and still thoroughly enjoyed the story, but it was relatively easy to guess the progression of the storyline consistently a few steps in advance.
Lacks Character Development/Resolution
This film introduces a colorful cast of Wakandan characters, yet shies away from deep and meaningful character development. T’Challa’s advisors and family are interesting and dynamic characters, and the film was saturated with moments where the relationships between these characters could have grown and strengthened. Yet what I see as the film’s greatest weakness – its only real weakness as far as I could tell – is the fact that that these characters at the end of the movie are largely the same as they are at the beginning, with the exception of T’Challa. Had a few of the characters gone through a bit more of a journey, I think the movie would be much stronger for it.
Despite the lack of character development throughout the film, I still greatly enjoyed this film. It brings a fun new energy to Marvel by mixing African internal and international politics with the superhero genre, and it does contribute to developing the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) in that it brings Wakanda to the forefront of global politics. Overall I would certainly recommend watching Black Panther, ranking it 8/10.
Did you watch Black Panther? What did you think of it? Comment below and let me know!