It’s time again to travel back into the most successful and fascinating cinematic projects of our time, the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I’m a huge sucker for the MCU, so I’m always going to be down to see what new treat Marvel Studios has in store for us, but the film we’ll be talking about today is one that I’ve been excited about for quite some time. Ever since the character first appeared in Civil War, I’ve been thrilled to see Chadwick Boseman’s Black Panther given the spotlight, and every single bit of development on this movie has just raised that anticipation. First it was the fact that it was being helmed by the terrific Ryan Coogler, then every single cast announcement, then the first images and trailers showing us what a vibrant and wonderful world Coogler and company had crafted, and finally the absolutely exuberant reviews that started pouring out all came together to promise a wonderfully unique and special film. It’s a film that’s already become a cultural phenomena, showing the eagerness that the black community has for representation. It’s insane that the MCU has been going on for ten years and we’re just now getting a superhero story with a predominately black cast, let alone simply a black lead, but we’re finally getting it in this film, and it’s just a hell of an experience.
Black Panther picks up after the events of Civil War with prince T’Challa returning home to the secretive nation of Wakanda after the assassination of his father. Wakanda is a technologically advanced African nation that keeps itself hidden from the rest of the world, and who have become the most advanced country on Earth due to their supply of a other worldly metal known as Vibranium. Once T’Challa returns home and meets with his mother Ramonda, his sister Shuri, and his ex-lover and Wakandan spy Nakia, and gets to work preparing to become the new king of Wakanda, and the next Black Panther. He goes through several ceremonies, including a ritual combat where members of other prominent tribes can challenge his family for supremacy, but T’Challa comes out ahead, and gains the right to become Wakanda’s new king. However, he then immediately finds himself put in a position where he has to make a serious decision. Because Wakandan intelligence has found the location of a wanted criminal named Ulysses Klaue. Klaue is a South African terrorist and weapon’s dealer who previously has gained access to Wakanda and stolen some Vibranium from them to turn into weapons, in the process killing several Wakandans. Including the father of one of T’Challa’s greatest friends, W’Kabi. So, T’Challa decides to travel to South Korea where Klaue is planning on selling the Vibranium along with Nakia and the leader of Wakanda’s special forces group Okoye. They head to Busan and infiltrate a high-roller casino where Klaue is selling the Vibranium. However, things become little complicated when T’Challa recognizes the buyer as a CIA agent he’s encountered in the past, Everett Ross. Things then predictably fall apart when Klaue arrives, realizes it’s a set up, and leads a massive chase through the streets of Busan, until T’Challa can finally capture him.
But, it turns out that Klaue isn’t working alone. He’s also been teaming up with a mysterious man known as Erik Kilmonger. Kilmonger has been working with Klaue for his own reasons, and seems to have a vast knowledge of Wakanda and Vibranium. He manages to bust Klaue out of prison, and in the process Everett Ross gets grievously wounded. T’challa feels responsible for Ross, and brings him back to Wakanda with the group in order to save his life. Shuri gets to work saving Ross, but T’Challa is fascinated with Kilmonger, and begins asking questions. And he doesn’t like what he finds. It turns out that T’challa’s father T’Chaka had a brother named N’Jobu who left Wakanda and went to California. There he fell in love with an American woman, and became passionate about the plight of black people all over the world, and convinced himself that it was his duty to use Wakandan technology to help them overthrow their own countries, turning the entire world into Wakanda. T’Chaka did not approve of this, and when the brothers confronted each other, N’Jobu ended up getting killed. They then left America, and N’Jobu’s son Erik behind. So, Killmonger is actually T’Challa’s cousin, and he’s ready to fulfill his father’s mission. He ends up killing Klaue, and bringing him to Wakanda as a sign of good faith, earning the respect of W’Kabi. Killmonger then reveals his identity to the high-council of Wakanda, and demands a ceremonial combat with T’Challa for the throne. T’Challa approves, and the two begin battle. Unfortunately, Killmonger is able to best T’Challa, throwing him off a waterfall. Killmonger then becomes a Black Panther, and begins sending out vast amounts of Vibranium weapons to Wakandan spies all around the world, trying to set up a race war that will change the entire world. Because they’ve been deposed, Ramonda, Shuri, and Nakia flee from the city, and try to seek refuge in land of a different tribe that has isolated itself from the rest of Wakanda. Their plan is to give the leader of these people, M’Baku, the special herb that will give him the powers of the Black Panther in order to defeat Killmonger. But, when they get there they find something shocking. T’Challa is still alive. So, they give him the special herb, give him the powers of the Black Panther once again, and the group head back to Wakanda to stop Killmonger. A massive fight begins, and eventually T’Challa is able to best Killmonger, stopping his plan and ending his threat. But, T’Challa doesn’t intend to let Killmonger’s life fade back into obscurity. He’s going to reveal Wakanda to the world, and work to better the rest of the world, starting in the very neighborhood that Killmonger lived in.
I really loved Black Panther. I’ve been a fan of the character of T’Challa for quite a while, and after seeing what the MCU planned to do with him in Civil War I figured that they were going to do right by the character. But I don’t think I ever would have thought that they would allow a movie this different, this personal, and this unique to be made. The MCU certainly has a formula that it uses for its films, especially the first films in each character’s individual series, and despite all the creative power-houses behind the scenes of this film I figured that they weren’t going to be able to buck the tend too much. And yet, this movie is a truly fascinating affair. Coogler expertly crafts a film that uses the MCU formula in order to tell a wonderfully unique film. It becomes a love-letter to Afrofuturism, James Bond, and the type of high-flung political fantasy that Game of Thrones does so well. It’s a movie that manages to keep several plates spinning, pulling off a blend of genres that shouldn’t work nearly as well as it does, but becomes one of the most singular and strange MCU movies of the bunch. It’s funny, political, action-packed, and genuinely moving. And it’s all bolstered by a truly terrific cast of some of the finest actors in the industry at the moment. Chadwick Boseman continues to do wonderfully in this role, giving us a T’Challa who is struggling with his place in the world, trying to find what kind of king he wants to be. He’s still full of that quiet rage that he had on display in Civil War, but he’s given a chance to be fun and goofy with his little sister, suave at the casino, romantic with Nakia, and finally a responsible leader by the end of the story. We get a trio of terrific actresses in Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Guiria, and Letitia Wright as Nakia, Okoye, and Shuri respectively, each of them creating characters that feel fully-realized and bringing some much-needed female-centric badassery to the MCU. And then there’s Michael B Jordan, who gives us a typically great performance as Killmonger, bringing one of the best villains the MCU has ever had to life, and giving us a truly challenging message for the movie.
Because at times it feels like Killmonger makes sense. He’s seen the horrors that have been perpetrated to members of his race for centuries, and is furious that nothing has ever been done about it. He carries the weight of his ancestors on this shoulders, and thinks that the only way to change the world is by ending lives. But, like so many villains, Killmonger has mistaken revenge for justice. He sees the vast history of injustice done to black people all around the world and thinks that the only thing to do is lead a bloody coup, to overthrow world society and start fresh from the ashes. But T’Challa sees another way. By the end of the film he sees that Killmonger had somethings right, but most things wrong. He sees that change needs to be brought to the world, but he also sees that the best way to change the world is by changing mind, not by ending lives. He reveals Wakanda to the world, ending centuries of tradition, in order to prove to the world that there’s a better way. The film ends with T’Challa planning on opening out-reach centers all around the world, places where the downtrodden can get help, and those with backwards thoughts can be shown a different world. Killmonger is full of righteous anger, like most good villains, but he’s so blinded by hate that he can’t see that he’ll just be perpetuating another cycle of violence. He had everything taken from him, and became a hate-filled man deadset on destroying the world. And yet, if things went his way he’d create countless other people with the exact same experiences as he did, keeping the cycle going. But T’Challa has a different idea. He wants to break the cycle and help everyone. It may be an impossible task, and one that seems more fantastical than anything Wakanda has to offer, but it’s thoughts like this that can change the world. So we’re lucky that it got disseminated in a film that will probably be seen by a staggering percentage of the population. Maybe then we’ll have a chance to save people from falling into the same trap as Erik Killmonger.
Black Panther was written by Ryan Coogler and Joe Robert Cole, directed by Ryan Coogler, and released by Walt Disney Motion Pictures, 2018.
Categories: Reel Talk