Marvel’s latest superhero film, Black Panther, has been getting good reviews. Here’s another one … with a twist.
Movie StatsTitle: Black Panther
Director: Ryan Coogler
Producer: Marvel Studios
Screenplay: Ryan Coogler and Joe Robert Cole
Release Date: Feb. 16, 2018
- Chadwick Boseman (T’Challa/Black Panther),
- Michael B. Jordan (N’Jadaka/Erik “Killmonger” Stevens),
- Lupita Nyong’o (Nakia),
- Danai Gurira (Okoye),
- Martin Freeman (Everett K. Ross),
- Daniel Kaluuya (W’Kabi),
- Letitia Wright (Shuri),
- Winston Duke (M’Baku),
- Angela Bassett (Ramonda, Queen Mother),
- Forest Whitaker (Zuri), and
- Andy Serkis (Ulysses Klaue).
*** WARNING: Spoiler Alert ***
The film opens in 1992 when T’Challa’s father is checking in on his brother’s work in the U.S. Turns out he has betrayed Wakanda and leaked vibranium to outsiders. There is a minor scuffle and the king kills his brother. He returns to Wakanda, leaving his nephew behind.
Back in the present, T’Challa is returning to Wakanda to be crowned king. But the past is starting to affect the present — and future of Wakanda and the world. The new king must face challengers to his throne, his cousin who is bent on destroying Wakanda from the inside, and a variety of other political problems.
Lots of action ensues, along with the obligatory cool special effects.
What Worked for Me
This film worked for me in a wide variety of ways, so here it goes.
Lots of fun-to-watch action sequences
One of the strengths of superhero films, especially those of recent years, is the action. Black Panther did not disappoint. From the first action sequence with the Black Panther to the epic battle scene at the end of the film, there were plenty of well-choreographed action scenes to ooh an ahh over.
A sense of authenticity and respect for African cultures
My earliest memories are of Kenya, an East African country located in the “nostril” of the African continent. We moved there just before I turned 3, and returned to the States just before I turned 5. Because of that experience, I developed an intimate and loving attachment to the place.
I’ve seen films before that were Americanized versions of Africa. (The Lion King comes to mind.) These films felt fake and “Hollywood-ized,” almost to the point of disrespect. It’s almost like listening to an American do a bad British accent (think Keano Reeves in Bram Stoker’s Dracula).
Black Panther felt somehow authentic. When I saw the veldt in the scene where T’Challa visits his father in the spirit world after taking the heart-shaped herb, I started to cry. I felt homesick. From the look and feel of the scenery to the costumes, everything felt right. It was obviously fantasy, but it also felt deeply African to me.
Turns out the people who worked on this film did their research and it showed. The make-believe land of Wakanda borders Kenya, and I could feel that without knowing that in advance.
Other than in Marvel’s Civil War, I don’t recall seeing this actor before. But he lent the character of T’Challa a gravitas that supported the character’s, well, character. I totally believed this was a young man who respected his duty as king. He was kingly. And, when he’s the Black Panther, he has a cat-like grace that was wonderful to behold.
A solid sense of ethics
Ethics are moral principles that govern a person’s behavior. Back in 2010, I interviewed a speaker for a book I’m almost done writing. He is an expert in the concept of the “ethical warrior.” During our conversation he told me that moral was knowing right from wrong, ethical is doing something about it. King T’Challa found himself in several moral binds where he knew something was wrong but wasn’t sure how to go about doing something to fix it without hurting something else. I really liked how the character grew as he worked his way through those dilemmas, stepping up into his role as a good and compassionate king.
Strong women who were still women
One thing that has often bothered me in the portrayal of strong women is that they seem to only be strong if they channel all their male energy. In other words, they have to behave like men in order to be strong. But that simply is not the case. The women in Black Panther are very many women, and also very strong. They can speak up for their opinions and, when the need is there, they can kick butt, too. In particular, I liked Danai Gurira as Okoye and Lupita Nyong’o as Nakia. You might remember Gurira as Michonne on The Walking Dead. She was strong and beautiful and was easily believable as the leader of the Dora Milaje, the all-female special forces of Wakanda, who serve as T’Challa’s bodyguards. And Nyong’o, who voice Maz Kanata in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, played the outspoken former lover of T’Challa very well, giving that character pluck and realism.
I loved the James Bond/Q interplay of T’Challa and his sister. It was fun and cool and I really got a kick out of it.
What Didn’t Work for Me
The things that didn’t work for me, that either pushed me momentarily out of the film or left me puzzled afterward are few, but worth noting.
Too much CG
I think that the Black Panther sequences used a bit too much computer graphics. It is possible that they were used in Civil War, but they weren’t as noticeable as they were in this film. I think that Boseman — or his stunt double — could have done a little bit more to give these sequences some more realism.
Rules were unclear
At first, it seemed pretty clear that the only time someone could challenge a new king was at the coronation ceremony. But then N’Jadaka comes along, claims royal blood and challenges the king well after the ceremony had been completed. That was confusing.
I know this film takes place sometime between Civil War and the forthcoming Infinity War. But where? Have the Avengers arrived yet? (They hide out in Wakanda at the end of Civil War.) Or are they just hanging out somewhere out of site while all this crap goes down?
This is a really fun, enjoyable film on many levels. If you enjoy a good superhero or aciton flick, you’ll enjoy Black Panther. If you have an emotional tie to Africa, then you might even get a little something extra out of it, too.