Marvel Studios has now released 18 films with Black Panther being out this weekend. Black Panther succeeds as one of the MCU’s most entertaining outings, but it may also be one of the most thought-provoking. While it does follow some of the familiar tropes of a “Marvel Movie,” it’s not afraid to shape its own identity amongst the other heroic outings in this shared, expanding universe. Black Panther may not be the first film to feature a Black Superhero, but it stands out as a film that celebrates African culture and a willingness to tackle tough topics.
Black Panther follows Prince T’Challa (played by Chadwick Boseman) who, after the death of his Father, has now become the new King of the nation known as Wakanda; a secret city that is hidden in the heart of Africa that contains the most advanced civilization on the planet. His story is a journey of self-discovery as he learns how he should lead as the latest successor of his Nation. As he seeks to do his best for Wakanda as both its monarch and protector, he encounters a new enemy, Erik “Killmonger” Stevens (played by Micheal B. Jordan) who has a longstanding grudge against T’Challa and his royal family. Don’t get me wrong, Black Panther shines as a fun and exciting superhero film, but it has so much more to offer than an excuse to eat some popcorn. This movie has a powerful message and a brilliant cast/crew to deliver it.
Director Ryan Coogler ensures that the African Nation of Wakanda and its culture and is just as much of a character in Black Panther’s story. Ryan also uses Black Panther as a platform for a Superhero film to explore some serious topics such as historical and current racial division, war, hatred, and the importance of “building bridges, not borders.” These are some of the best aspects of this film. Michael B. Jordan brings to life one of the best villains of the MCU. Killmonger is not just your generic Marvel Villian that has plagued previous Marvel films. It’s easy to write a vague villain with general motivations… but Killmonger has a strong (albeit skewed) moral compass. He has a purpose, he has a cause, he has motivations… and some moviegoers may even find themselves siding with Erik throughout the film. This is revealed from the first moment you see him on screen and continues throughout. Killmonger represents some of the film’s tougher topics such as isolationism and social justice. Sitting in the audience, I truly felt empathy for T’Challa as he struggled against the ideologies of Killmonger, his country of Wakanda, and the world as a whole. Picking sides and finding answers don’t always come easy; which is a credit to Boseman’s performance as T’Challa for showing that struggle and eventual triumph as he faces these issues as a man and as a king.
Michael B. Jordan playing Black Panther’s villian Killmonger
When Black Panther isn’t tackling tough issues, it’s a dazzling film to look at. The first reveal of Wakanda is a treat, and the film continues to dole out “sweets” with every calculated shot. As we explore Wakanda, we come to see how much of a love letter it is to African culture. It’s a place that by the end of my viewing I wanted to hop on a jet and visit. The eye candy doesn’t stop there as Black Panther continues with the new trend of Marvel films where each has its own distinct look to stand out from the crowd. This visual flair is apparent with its action set pieces, specifically a thrilling car chase in the first act of the film. The cast of the film has incredible chemistry and personality. Each character that graces the screen is distinct in both temperament and appearance. The representation of strong, female characters was also a breath of fresh air in the testosterone-driven atmosphere of superhero movies.
Despite the film being easily one of Marvel’s best, it isn’t free of problems that need to be addressed. While Black Panther is a fun and exciting film, it does suffer from some pacing issues. Some moments are stretched out a bit too much and the movie does have a slow start. There are also moments where the CGI in the film doesn’t look as polished as it should be, and that can hurt some of the films action sequences and even the nation of Wakanda. The film also has an issue with how it sometimes handles Killmonger, despite him being the main villain of the film, I couldn’t help but feel like Michael B. Jordan’s talents were underutilized in both screen time and thorough discussion of his viewpoints. While these issues don’t ruin the film, they hold it back just enough from being a masterpiece. Hopefully, issues like this will be addressed in the, most likely, future sequel to Black Panther.
In the end, Black Panther stands amongst Marvel Studios long lineup of films as one of its best. This is all thanks to Ryan Coogler’s great direction, the great and talented cast, stunning visuals and actions sequences, and a willingness to tackle such important subject matter. Black Panther stands not only as a good example of superhero movies as a whole but as an ensign that other movies from other genres can look towards for inclusion and diversity.