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A groundbreaking new perspective on the typical high concept superhero movie. Marvel’s Black Panther directed by Ryan Coogler is the type of movie that began with the desire to make a bold statement and then a narrative was built around the message. If you’ve heard it’s unlike any superhero movie you’ve seen before, then you’ve heard correctly. One of the things I’ve always appreciated about the Marvel universe (and DC by the same token) is the diversity of the characters. There are characters from a variety of backgrounds, creeds, cultures, ethnicities, etc that are represented in the characters. However, just because the characters were there does not mean they received reasonable screentime (or page time in comics). Up to this point, X-Men’s Storm (my favorite Marvel character) seems to be the only black character who receives comparable screen and page time to that of her white male or female counterparts. In a world that should teach us that our universe is a diverse place, filled with incredible people from a variety of backgrounds and origins, the representation of black heroes lagged behind. The beauty of Black Panther is not that is was simply created to finally give a predominantly black cast in a superhero universe the spotlight, the beauty is that the movie has something to teach everyone. There is a particularly strong message for young black boys and girls that their mythology is as fascinating as the Greeks and Romans, and that they can achieve greatness through teamwork, education, and loyalty.
Chadwick Boseman plays King T’Challa, of Wakanda, the fictional African nation housing secret sci-fi technology, who must step up and embrace the weighty responsibility of his birthright after the assassination of his father. When T’Challa returns home Wakanda to take his rightful place as king, a powerful enemy suddenly reappears and challenges T’Challa’s claim to the throne — and as Black Panther — T’Challa gets tested when he’s drawn into a conflict that puts the fate of Wakanda and the entire world at risk. Faced with treachery and danger, the young king must rally his allies and release the full power of Black Panther to defeat his foes and secure the safety of his people. (IMDb)
Although there is a lot of technology in Wakanda (and by extension, in the film), the focus is not on gadgetry or superpowers but on how T’Challa can be a better king than his father who made a poor judgment call that ultimately cost him his life and put the land of Wakanda at risk of rape, pillage, and plunder. That is a message that resonates with everyone–we all want to strive to be better as we go through life. Perhaps we are trying to be better than we were as kids or maybe you are trying to be a better parent than yours were. Whatever the case, we can all place ourselves in T’Challe’s boots. There is also a powerful message regarding how isolation can be detrimental to society at large. Not that the film is advocating the loss of sovereignty–Wakanda is highly sovereign–but there is the message that a country with so much to offer should return some of that to the world in order to help create a better society, more opportunities for growth, and the sharing knowledge that can heal and protect.
The cast is incredible! So many talented performers who truly bring their respective characters to life. My only negative critique regarding the cast is the underused Michael B Jordan as the main opposition character. His charisma shines brightly on screen! But sadly, he does not get much screen time. He is the type of opposition character that you love to see, but unfortunately, you don’t get that much time with him. Although many may be quick to liken Black Panther to Captain America—and for good reason, both shoot straight and almost piously righteous–there is a big difference between the two–and it’s a good one. Black Panther is humanized by his endearing relationship with his brilliant sister Shuri portrayed by the delightful Letitia Wright. Honestly, she was my favorite character in the entire movie. Every moment she was on screen was outstanding. She was the only one who wasn’t bruting–always positive–and has the BEST lines. Just her character alone is enough to give the movie rewatchabiity. On the topic of dialogue, I would like to have seen a powerful monologue that embodied the message of the film and evoked strong emotion. There are emotional parts, but I think an acute moment would have done the film well.
The film opens with a beautiful long tracking shot of exquisite editing that has a mystical feel to it. The opening alone is enough to hook your attention for the remainder of the narrative. No surprise here that all the technical elements were exemplary. There were only a few times that the visual effects felt artificial. For all the action movie tropes in the film, it plays as more of a character-driven story than action-driven. And that’s the brilliance of Black Panther. Simple plot, complex characters–that’s what I tell my screenwriting students at the University of Tampa.
Intensely riveting, Black Panther is clearly a standout Marvel film distinguished from the others in the MCU. All the elements that give it the fresh take on the superhero movie genre work to its advantage. You’ll certainly be left with a lasting impression.