The first movie centered around an African-American superhero, Black Panther has a fresh perspective on the overused superhero genre that is impressive across its settings, musical score, costumes, and also by having more to say about society and the world than most Marvel movies. Yet, it’s also fun, funny, exciting and has flashes of romance that make this a winner for everyone.
There have been nearly 20 movies in the pretentiously titled (yet wildly entertaining) Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) since Iron Man kicked off the tidal wave of superhero cinema that has overwhelmed audiences worldwide since 2008. In a prime example of just how overly dominant white culture is in Hollywood, none of these stories centered on a character of color, with the only Black actors in these films relegated to supporting roles.
All that is changing this weekend, with Marvel’s latest film Black Panther hitting theaters with the tale of a heroic prince named T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) who comes from the fictional African kingdom of Wakanda. T’Challa inherits not only the throne of that nation but also superpowers that have passed down through his family for centuries.
The film opens with the backstory of how Wakanda became a powerful nation, revealing that a large meteor consisting of a powerful material called vibranium crashed there millions of years ago.
Five tribes discovered the magical properties of the material and used it to create a technologically advanced nation, one cloaked by supernatural powers to appear poor to the outside world. However, one of the tribes rejected the modernization and established a separate realm in the mountains.
The four other tribes picked a king by combat, and he became the Black Panther, a hero imbued with superpowers from a special flower grown in the country’s vibranium-enriched soil.
Finding adventure from Africa to modern America
Jumping to 1992, the then-current king, T’Chaka (John Kani), visits his brother in Oakland. There, his brother has established base from which to spy on the rest of the world. The King is upset that his brother has married an American woman with whom he has a young son. Worse, he is stockpiling futuristic Wakandan weapons to lead a global war.
The brother’s right-hand man has actually been spying on the brother for the King, who orders his brother to return home and face judgment. Only the brother refuses and tries to kill the spy. However, the King kills his brother before he can act, then takes the weapons back home, leaving his nephew to fend for himself in Oakland.
Cut to the present day, where the nephew has teamed up with a South African arms dealer named Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis) to steal more Wakandan technology. A former Special Forces soldier nicknamed Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) plans to steal the throne from T’Challa, the son of King T’Chaka, who’s still mourning his beloved father’s death from a terrorist bomb.
As the new Black Panther, T’Challa must work with a female Wakandan spy with whom he’s romantically entangled, and with the general of Wakanda’s elite female warriors to stop Klaue and Killmonger. They’re aided by his brilliant younger sister, who runs Wakanda’s technological development, and a CIA agent.
A confusing beginning turns into thrilling adventure
While Black Panther is undeniably exciting overall, its opening sequences are more convoluted than most MCU films. On top of the history of the meteor and of the Oakland incident, an extended scene in which T’Challa must battle a challenger to his throne and the first glimmers of romance with a love interest all combine to put off the first real confrontation with the villains at nearly a half-hour into the film.
From there, though, there’s a lot of compelling, exciting, crowd-pleasing action. The first showdown with the villains in South Korea leads to a nifty car chase. Also, the stakes are raised eventually when the vengeful nephew finally reveals his plan to take over the throne and become the Black Panther so that he can lead oppressed people in a global war and establish himself as king of the world.
Boseman has built his still-young yet highly impressive career upon his portrayals of real-life icons Jackie Robinson, James Brown, and Thurgood Marshall, but the highly entertaining and very original Panther will finally propel him to international stardom. With great performances, stunning visuals, and impressive action overseen by co-writer/director Ryan Coogler (Creed), Black Panther is a fun addition to the MCU.
But what makes it truly stand out, of course, is the fact that it finally gives black audiences worldwide a full-on superhero of their own, something that’s been long overdue.