I remember the hurricane of controversy when the first poster for Black Panther was released last summer. Because the poster had a striking resemblance to a famous photograph of Huey P. Newton, co-founder of the American Black Panther Party, it ruffled
white people’s feathers by simple virtue of a holla back to black power. I just have one thing to say to these naysayers. HA.
Besides the fact that it’s the most critically acclaimed superhero film thus far and that it’s already breaking multiple box office records (double HA), Black Panther is, simply, a good story. The movie struggles with real, morally gray questions about when cultural preservation becomes close-minded and selfish, how loyalty to tradition can be beautiful and can also be a trap, and what happens when the person you thought you knew isn’t as perfect as you believed.
I find it interesting to see T’Challa struggle with what it means to be a good man and a good king, and whether being both is even possible, almost immediately after Thor faced the same struggle in Ragnarok. For generations, Wakanda has concealed its advanced technology and wealth of vibranium from the outside world, posing as a Third World country in Africa to protect its people and its secrets from falling into the wrong hands. Soon, however, T’Challa discovers that this secrecy has come at a price. (This plot line reminds me of Disney’s Atlantis, and now that I’ve pointed it out I bet you won’t be able to unsee it.)
Chadwick Boseman kills it as Black Panther, as we knew he would. Michael B. Jordan is now the second Human Torch to be redeemed from Fan4stic by the MCU through his villainous role as Killmonger. Killmonger brings a lot into question for T’Challa’s worldview, which is unique for an MCU antagonist. He talks the most directly about anti-black racism, unrelenting in his deep-rooted anger and his willingness to secure victory over the oppressors by any means necessary – a sentiment reminiscent of Magneto in the X-Men movies. Meanwhile, Martin Freeman also returns from Captain America: Civil War as the white man who attempts to take control of the situation, only to be shut down, multiple times, by the Wakandan characters.
To my delightful surprise, Wakanda women also show up to slay the day. Dana Gurira, the general of the warrior women of Dora Milaje, can make you crap your pants with just one glare, but she also provides a surprising amount of humor. Letitia Wright plays T’Challa’s little sister Shuri, a tech guru who could give Stark a run for his money both in technological genius and snarkiness. She’s also an excellent source of sibling banter and irreverent fun. Angela Bassett gives grace and power to Ramonda, queen of Wakanda and T’challa’s mother.
Lupita Nyong’o’s character Nakia, interestingly, shares the same frustrations with Wakanda as Killmonger. Although T’Challa tries to woo her, Nakia tells him that she cannot stand by while the world suffers and Wakanda does nothing – a break of philosophy that threatens to tear the two apart. Her ~romance~ with T’Challa is otherwise forgettable, as it usually is in Marvel movies, although it does lead to a hilarious moment where the typically composed T’Challa stands starstruck in front of Nakia and afterward receives ruthless teasing from the other characters.
Lastly, the soundtrack. Wow, the soundtrack. The Kendrick Lamar-curated hiphop and rap mixed with the drum-heavy tribal rhythms will keep your blood pumping for the whole ride, while also giving a rich tribute to diverse African cultures. The score meshed well with the beautiful visuals of the clothing and the landscape of Wakanda to make a well-rounded feast for the senses. If you’re feeling nerdy you can watch an interview with the composer here.
Wow, I’ve written enough paragraphs to write a thesis on this movie. I need to stop now. In short: watch Black Panther. It’s awesome.
As a bonus, here’s a throwback to the first appearance of Black Panther’s elite bodyguard in Captain America: Civil War, if you care to watch: