‘Black Panther’ enriches the Marvel cinematic universe with culture and commentary
The superhero genre is one that can easily run out of steam. And there have been many who claim it’s already jumped the shark or is well on its way to audience fatigue.
Then along comes Black Panther, which shows the genre still has some life left in it.
The assumption that all the superhero films to date have plumbed the depths of the concept is a bit of an oversimplification. There are still quite a few tales left that the genre can tell.
Black Panther is an example of that. This finely crafted film is full of rich characters and social commentary. It takes the genre deeper, reflecting present day issues from the perspective of the African American experience.
And it shows just how little the overall genre has done to explore perspectives on the world and heroes outside of the average white guy.
Putting that aside, let’s just look at the story. “Black Panther” takes you inside the nation of Wakanda, an advanced African country that hides its true level of advanced technological development from the rest of the world. It is ruled by T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman), who we originally met in Captain America: Civil War and who became rule after the death of his father in a bombing incident.
T’Challa, however, is not without his detractors.
He is challenged not once, but twice, for the throne. His true nemesis proves to be the American-born Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan), who wants to change Wakanda’s peaceful kingdom into a world-dominating power.
Ultimately, T’Challa must not just save the Wakanda people, but it’s soul, as well.
Boseman is once again perfect as the Black Panther. Jordan enters to deliver one of Marvel’s most dynamic and clearly-defined villains. Danai Gurira walks away with points as the film’s most interesting characters, however. As the powerful and loyal Okoye, she leads Wakanda’s army. Her performance is flawless and grounded, with just a pinch of humor to allow her to feel human.
Ryan Coogler assembled an outstanding cast, and crafted a film that elevates the Marvel cinematic universe in ways none other has achieved. Not simply because its entertaining, the other films have been that, too. But because it gives layers and humanity, complexity and culture, to an otherwise commercial endeavor.
One of Black Panther‘s strengths is the struggle between hero and villain. While to an extent, it follows the usual trope of the villain being the polar opposite of the hero, Killmonger works because you can understand his perspective. It’s one sharpened and created by our own societal flaws, and hardened by the repercussions of Wakanda’s isolationism. And unlike the usual motivations such as greed or power, his anger comes from a place that feels more grounded and sadly, understandable.
Black Panther isn’t without its flaws. And there’s really only one specifically I feel could have been done better. One subplot involves Okoye and her relationship with W’Kabi (Daniel Kaluuya), a tribal leader who ultimately choses to not support T’Challa. They are lovers. However, this is only noted briefly early in the film. When the two find themselves on opposite sides, and forced to fight, the relationship is never addressed until they clash again. I had actually forgotten they were lovers at that point, which I felt took away from their conflict. That thread needed a better scene.
Overall, as Marvel shifts its cinematic universe into a new direction, Black Panther will likely be looked back upon as a turning point. And so far, it’s heading in a good direction.