Black Panther was a daring film, catching up to Marvel’s reputable greatness, however what separates this film from other Marvel flicks was the singularity. Rather than needing cameos from big heroes like Iron Man or Captain America, which I was thoroughly expecting as the franchise has a track-record of this, the Wakanda clan held up their own. In fact, no one in the cast necessarily outshined each other as they each equated in acting as well as bad-assery (term patent pending).
What also separates the film is the obvious: a new perspective. One of black power, African influence, and traditional rites mingling with progressive evolution. There was no shying away from the truth of our history, with references to “colonizers” and the slave trade abundant in the individuals’ struggle to move forward within present conditions. Overall, there was a larger message than just a man in a suit—it was about change. We see this with Lupita’s character Nakia, who desperately wishes to help others outside of Wakanda, a utopian society in Africa which has the power to aide refugees and third-world countries because of their main resource, vibranium, which is the strongest metal able to give humans supernatural ability all the while powering a whole city with kinetic energy.
The ancestors of Wakanda have instilled how powerful vibranium is and therefore shut themselves off from the world in order to protect it, but this seclusion causes conflict as characters are torn between maintaining tradition or taking a risk in order to help those in need. While Nakia wishes to use vibranium for good in order to advance technology to teach and develop societies, antagonist Killmonger wishes to wrought destruction—a day old mantra: to annihilate repressors and start anew.
Meanwhile, newly crowned Black Panther King T’Challa struggles between the balance of understanding truth, respecting tradition, and trying to build a better future with his people in mind. The film does a great job encapsulating the royal aspect and I especially loved the clan’s synchronization during ceremonies, intricate costumes, and attention to detail from actual African rites and rituals. Style wise, it was very unique in the ability of the settings, clothing and even music to be uber modern with a twist of antiquated African patterns and essence. Striking colors and saturation of which the Marvel movies are known for really emphasize the designs. Plus, Kendrick’s soundtrack… enough said.
The relationship between Black Panther, General Okoye, Nakia, and his technologically brilliant sister, Shuri, who puts Elon Musk to shame, was a beautiful display. I loved Okoye before as Michonne, the double samurai sword wielding, zombie pet-owning bad ass on the Walking Dead, so seeing her in this role makes me want to see her in many more films! My favorite part in the whole film was when she faced down her husband/partner in one of the final scenes, that terse moment when the battle slows down to zoom into the chaos and the stillness of them, when he tells her, “Would you kill me, my love?” and she says, “For Wakanda? No Question.” Oh god. Like GODDAMN. The lines were delivered so strongly. His submission of defeat was an incredible moment. Many African tribes, present and past, feature female patriarchs with women as chiefs, leading council, and in the armies, so this representation and treatment of the women was far from condescending or added with only the implication of female empowerment. They were naturally dominant and respected.
While the movie was entertaining and cohesive, my bias Marvel disdain will come out to say that the dialogue for some parts of the film featured a lot of cliché “jokes” or phrases that were expected. It was also a very long film, not to say that there were idle scenes. Director Ryan Coogler does a fair job of showing and not telling as he indicates the King and his cousin’s life story rather than showing it all. The villains were ruthless in this film, raunchier than past villains who were very one dimensional in recent Marvel hits. Adding a familial connection to the antagonist Killmonger was a way to establish a deeper-rooted struggle, a smart move to indicate a heavier betrayal and raise the stakes. It thus turned into a representation of two ideologies: destruction and development. The progressive actions taken at the end show Wakanda’s initiation of advancing the world, with a hero who proved his status as the Black Panther at the threshold.