Marvel and its connective cinematic universe has been the dominant force at the box office for the past decade stemming from its initial film “Iron Man” in 2008. Since then it has pushed out films like both of “The Avengers” and “Captain America: Civil War” which are in the top 15 highest grossing movies of all time.
There is no reason Marvel had to stem away from its formulaic yet entertaining blueprint of superhero films that explore one or two issues with some thought but mostly rely on action and humor to drive the film. With “Black Panther,” the studio took a risk in disregarding that blueprint to produce something that had a cultural impact and explored complex relations of race without controversy in an age when that is near impossible to do.
“Black Panther” is without a doubt the most daring move Marvel has made and it paid off. It delves into relations between African-Americans and native Africans, the role of a father’s presence in a child’s life and what it means to be black.
That last theme is what makes “Black Panther” such a significant film. It may just seem like another CGI-filled entry into what many consider a bloated genre but to many, it signified a milestone in representation. Chadwick Boseman’s T’Challa a.k.a The Black Panther isn’t the first leading black superhero ever but he’s the first one to do so that celebrates black culture.
The movie also touches on the role of woman in power with T’Challa’s sister Shuri, played by Letitia Wright, playing the role of technology genius that is on par with Robert Downey Jr.’s now iconic character of Iron Man. “The Walking Dead” star Danai Gurira plays Okoye, the general in The Black Panther’s nation of Wakanda and has just as much grandeur throughout the film as its lead character.
The story is set a week after the events of “Captain America: Civil War” in which T’Challa’s father and king of Wakanda is killed and he is thrust into the throne. As he fends off others who challenge him for the title of the new king of the nation, he must also grapple with the decision of the nation’s separation from the rest of the world.
While the entire world thinks Wakanda is just a typical third-world nation of Africa, Wakanda, in fact, is a futuristic epitome of progression with complex technologies and medical miracles stemming from their wealth of vibranium, a priceless material that is crucial to the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
The Black Panther is a superhero that has been the protector of the nation and the outside forces who attempt to harm it. One of these men is Andy Serkis’ Ulysses Klau, one of the film’s main villains, who robs some of the nation’s vibranium.
His theft occurs in the 1990s when T’Challa’s father was still king and he discovers that his brother (played by breakout star of “This is Us,” Sterling K. Brown), an undercover spy in the United States, was complicit. Brown’s character is accidentally killed and leaves behind his son to be raised without a parent in the streets of Oakland.
That child grows to become the film’s main villain Killmonger. Michael B. Jordan plays the role with a subtle menace that never seems aggressive but rather calculated, calm with an underlying tone of manic.
Killmonger, a veteran of the U.S. Army, represents the black rage that has engulfed U.S. politics in today’s world and because he has a talent for violence and scarred from his history with the military and his father, seeks a type of vengeance and what he sees as righteousness.
Killmonger is perhaps the best example of the film’s ability to tackle multiple complex issues at the same time. Killmonger represents the emotional and mental toll it takes on military members to follow through on what they were trained to do and adapt to civilian life afterward but also touches on the issue of anger African-Americans feel. Their history is an unjust one and their anger is justified but to what end does that anger go?
His plan and T’Challa’s response to it is not only a great spectacle visually, with The Black Panther having amazing effects and rivals “Civil War” for the best third act battle scene in the MCU, but a great philosophical difference as well. T’Challa believes Wakanda does have a responsibility to make the world better and the outside world does need to change but it is their responsibility to do that while Killmonger believes everything should just burn to the ground.
There aren’t enough words without delving into an essay to explore all the issues “Black Panther” tackles but it is truly a masterpiece in the superhero genre. It lacks the action that the movies surrounding it usually rely on and instead tackles complex issues of race, ethnicity and others head-on in a way that is in no way political but rather philosophical in nature.
Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight” swept the entire world with its complex issues of chaos, what it means to be a hero and more and as a result, many wanted it to be nominated for the best picture. “Black Panther” not only does the same but tackles more complex issues and does so that even in a politically-charged environment like today’s, doesn’t point the finger at any one party or person but rather asks the questions about the individual viewer and their perspective.
If “The Dark Knight” had a powerful following for Academy Award attention, “Black Panther” should as well.