Main cast: Chadwick Boseman (T’Challa/Black Panther), Michael B Jordan (N’Jadaka/Erik “Killmonger” Stevens), Lupita Nyong’o (Nakia), Danai Gurira (General Okoye), Martin Freeman (Everett K Ross), Daniel Kaluuya (W’Kabi), Letitia Wright (Shuri), Winston Duke (M’Baku), Angela Bassett (Ramonda), Forest Whitaker (Zuri), and Andy Serkis (Ulysses Klaue)
Director: Ryan Coogler
As a superhero, Black Panther never had a grand origin history, as let’s face it, he was created by white people in a time when it was perfectly fine to stereotype black folks by associating them with jungle fever and such. Now Stan Lee claims that he is always fond of that character, conveniently enough when this movie is out in the big screen, but compared to other black superheroes like Blade, poor Black Panther has always been that hokey black version of the Phantom guy living in Wakanda instead of Bangalia.
Also, Wakanda is an ethnostate with a literal wall to keep foreigners out, which is hilarious when you see the same people who rag on the current US immigration policies also praise this fictitious kingdom because they believe that it conforms to their “WE WUZ KANGS” fantasies. More significantly, this kingdom cannot exist given its current background: this place flourished due to an asteroid filled with vibranium crashing into that area ages ago, and the Wakandans kept the existence of this asteroid and the metal secret; vibranium is somehow used to create a technologically advanced nation that would be right at home in a sci-fi movie and somehow these people manage to build foundries, factories, medical equipment, etc solely from vibranium without trading with neighboring countries for anything. No country is completely self-sustaining, so Wakanda cannot exist except in the fantasies of people who don’t pay attention to mundane details of reality. And it must be a huge asteroid, as these people are still mining the vibranium by train-loads even today.
Anyway, this whole thing comes into play because when T’Challa’s father got killed in Captain America: Civil War, he now formally gets crowned as the new King of Wakanda, and top on the list of priorities handed down to the new king is to maintain the isolationist stance of the kingdom. The first half of Black Panther deals with the rituals of coronation, complete with the whole “Ooh, how can I be as great a king as my daddy?” and oh-so-predictable dream scenes of him conversing with his dead father in a dream world and getting the usual greeting card advice from the dead sod. Our new king also has to deal with a leftover menace from his father’s reign: Ulysses Klaue, the only guy to have stolen some vibranium and taken out a big chunk of Wakanda with some explosives in the process. He also has to convince his independent ex-squeeze Nakia to be his consort – she has always been against Wakanda’s isolationist stance, and she’d rather join their spy force the War Dogs to help those in need around the African continent. T’Challa himself struggles with balancing tradition and what he feels to be a more relevant, progressive stance of opening Wakanda’s borders to help the world with their advanced technology.
Remember Ulysses? The trouble runs deeper than apprehending one-armed Gollum and stumbling into CIA agent Bilbo Baggins in the process – among Ulysses’s henchling is a former CIA operative Killmonger who specializes in destabilizing nations after taking out their leaders. Killmonger has his own personal reason to be part of Gollum’s gang – his father was killed by T’Challa’s father. To be fair, Killmonger’s father betrayed Wakanda by informing Ulysses where to strike in order to steal the vibranium, and the death was an accident, but Killmonger isn’t so understanding. He wants to be the new Black Panther, and he wants to use the bombs and other weapons of mass destruction in Wakanda to take out the “oppressors” and “colonizers” (this movie’s terms of endearment for white people), and to instate a new world order in which he rules from his throne.
Black Panther, understandably, is like hell, no.
Don’t be put off by the use of “colonizers” and “oppressors” in this movie. Unlike the comics from Marvel, which often presents a crude and unintelligent version of social justice due to the company hiring minimally talented bloggers and failed novelists for cheap to write those things, this movie presents a more reasonable look at the race situation in the US. I say the US, because if there is one boo-boo the screenwriters John Robert Cole and Ryan Cooger have done here, it is to apply an American sociopolitical landscape broadly over the entire continent of Africa. T’Challa’s sister Shuri, for example, has no reason to call Bilbo Baggins a “colonizer” when Wakanda has always belonged to four major black tribes and it has never been colonized by white people. That fact that she does just jars me out of the movie. Wakanda is not America! “White privilege” is a phrase that can only apply to countries where white people dominate, such as the USA, but in countries where white people are not the majority, much less the dominating force – like large swathes of Africa and the fictitious kingdom of Wakanda – folks in those places going all “white privilege” and “colonizer” is just ridiculous.
Aside from that, this movie is actually very reasonable and fair. Through T’Challa, it rejects the more violent and extremist views of segregation and violence; instead, he and his sister as well as Nakia are all for building the black community all over the world through improving the education and economy as well as to share resources for the betterment of the global community. A bit idealistic, perhaps, if you’re cynical like me, but after seeing some of the more ridiculous screes of social justice coming from Marvel in the past, this movie’s reasonable stance is a cause for celebration.
My relief aside, I have to also give this movie lots of love for being an old-school Marvel superhero movie. Remember those old days when the movies more or less standalone just fine, and every line uttered by the main characters is not a joke? Black Panther is that movie. Humor is used judiciously and hence is more effective when it shows up. This movie follows the rest of the Marvel formula: shirtless scenes of the male main character, family issues, drama about responsibilities that come with great power, et cetera, but with some notable, delightful fresh twists to the old tropes.
One, Black Panther is easily and genuinely the most feminist movie to date in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. In the past, the people behind those movies talked big about diversity, equality, feminism, et cetera, but the female characters still are limited to girlfriend and sidekick roles. Here, T’Challa kicks ass, but his abilities are augmented by the vibranium-flower-power steroid juice all Black Panthers take. General Okoye and Nakia, on the other hand, are wholly human but trust me, these ladies charge into battle with courage and grace that makes my heart go all warm and melty inside. The Dora Milaje, the royal contingent of all-female warriors, are up there with the Amazons in Wonder Woman: these ladies simply rock. Of course, this movie doesn’t make a big deal about them being women – it’s just me who is so, so happy to see so many kick-ass woman sharing the screen with kick-ass men, side by side, shoulder to shoulder. Even Shuri, who plays the Q to T’Challa’s James Bond, is no slouch, as she has no problems using weapons of her own creation to join in the fray. Wakanda forever!
Two, the cast is all around adorable. Chadwick Boseman cements my adoration of him in this role. The ladies, as I’ve mentioned, are all delightful to watch. But perhaps the most impressive is Michael B Jordan’s villainous character, who is probably the strongest-drawn bad guy to date. Killmonger and T’Challa actually share similar sentiments about wanting to help black people all over the world, and both are frustrated by how Wakanda has all this powerful technology at its disposal to do so, only to just sit there and go all isolationist. But Killmonger’s desire is entwined with the need to repay the people he considers the oppressors with violence, while T’Challa wants to help all who are oppressed, regardless of these people’s skin color.
Three, this movie is some of the best choreographed martial fight scenes in these Marvel superhero movies. Sometimes things get confusing for three seconds when both T’Challa and Killmonger duke it out wearing similar Black Panther costumes, but I can catch up easily shortly after.
And finally, this movie restores my faith in the Marvel Cinematic Universe after the last few movies simply lost focus and concentrated on one-liners regardless of context and shoving pointless appearances of sequel baits and cameos by the director’s and script writer’s favorite celebrities down my throat. Black Panther wants to tell a story, and it tells it so well in the most exquisite kick-ass way possible. It doesn’t always get things right, and there are quite a number of scenes here that can be too hokey for words due to their whole “dream world, woo-woo, shaman, and oh my god, Forest Whitaker makes me cringe so hard in this movie” shtick. All in all, though, it gives me jungle fever. I can say that, right?