Glorious. That was one of the many words that constantly ran through my mind while sitting in a theater packed on Friday night as images of Wakanda flashed on the big screen. Marvel’s latest entry about an African hero is something that most films in general struggle to achieve and should aspire to be; an aptly balanced tale of culture, responsibility and contemporary issues, neatly packed into a film based on a comic book. Definitely not something anyone would expect. But Marvel has a track record of surprising us.
Creed director Ryan Coogler helms Black Panther, a standalone feature for the hero who was introduced to the MCU in 2016’s Civil War. Like Creed, the storyline packs more of an emotional punch than a traditional genre movie. The film opens with a father-son narration detailing the history of Wakanda; the aforementioned relationship is a staple theme upon which th entire film rests. We are then introduced to Sterling K. Brown’s Prince N’Jobu who has been secretly selling vibranium to Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis) and when his mischief is unearthed, King T’Chaka confront his own brother in a meeting that ends fatally and leaves N’Jobu’s son fatherless. It is this moment that unfolds the entire sequence of events that unfolds throughout the two hours that follow.
The film then picks up where Civil War left off with T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) mourning the death of his father T’Chaka. Next in line to inherit the Wakandan throne, our titular hero finds himself having to fight any challengers from the five tribes of Wakanda before ascending to the throne. Being a nation that has remained hidden from the outside world and guarding their superior technology in order to protect themselves and fearing war-like consequences if revealed, T’Challa is soon faced with the dilemma of whether to share their resources with the globe and aid the less fortunate or solely nurture their own people. This choice between a pan-Africanist worldview is what noyt the only thing that drives a wedge between T’Challa and his best friend, Get Out’s Daniel Kaluuya who plays W’Kabi. W’Kabi’s parents were killed by Klaue and when T’Challa fails to bring the villain back to Wakanda for trial, W’Kabi sides with Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan). Killmonger hauls Klaue to Wakanda and holds the same worldview as his late father Prince N’Jobu, giving him royal right to challenge T’Challa in order to claim the Wakandan throne.
What Coogler does beautifully is create an origin story not only for the Black Panther legend but also for the fictional nation of Wakanda as a whole. Given that most African countries are classified as third world nations, Coogler weaves a story about a country hiding in the shadows, posing as the poorest country when it in fact possesses technology that surpasses that of Tony Stark. Additionally, the pro- African themes are infused beautifully into the deep emotional characters, especially Killmonger who stands out as possibly the best Marvel villain since Loki. The rest of the cast are amazing as well. Danai Gurira slays it as Okoye, the leader of the badass Dora Milaje while Lupita Nyong’o plays Nakia, a spy who was also T’Challa’s ex. Perhaps, the standout character of the movie is none other than Shuri (Letitia Wright), T’Challa’s sister and the young sassy genius who not only designs Wakanda’s tech but also serves to add much needed humor to a very serious storyline.
Surprisingly enough, Wakanda as a technologically advanced nation does not look or feel alien. Instead it embodies something futuristic while maintaining the core cultural vibes of Africa.
The film’s soundtrack is an entire topic in itself. For the first time, Marvel has placed a ton of emphasis and depth in its music alone. With many videos circling the web about how Marvel films have a lack of memorable music, (anyone who made those videos obviously hasn’t heard the Avengers theme, hypocrites) the studio certainly seemed to have been actually listening to their fandom. Either way, we end up with the best scored film in the entire MCU.
Black Panther redefines what a superhero movie can be and is also evidence that a multi-ethnic cast can carry a tentpole film with the right direction, resulting in a film that resonates with a global audience. Packed with superb action, acting and marvelous visuals, Marvel’s highly political film wraps 400 years of black history in 2.5 hours and is a spectacle to behold.
P.S. Remain in your seats for the two end credit scenes, you won’t regret it.
All hail King T’Challa. Wakanda forever!
By Akash Sk