I know that it’s been a while since I last spoke about anything with regards to my taste in entertainment, and I apologize once again for that. But this time, I’m going to start off my critiques for the new year with my thoughts on a particular superhero movie that’s received quite a following since just this past year. That movie, as probably everyone can figure out, is Black Panther.
I will be frank and say that I wasn’t familiar with the MCU before I watched this movie. But when I heard about the movie through an enthusiastic word-of-mouth, I decided to give this a look see when it was still in theaters. Man, was I glad that I did!
The story is about a young black man named T’Challa, and after the death of his father, King T’Chaka, he was expected to take over the throne and be king of Wakanda, a futuristic African city that hid itself from the outside world for hundreds of years and thrived on its technological advancements and traditional values. Wakanda was also known to have stored countless amounts of a priceless metallic substance known as vibranium, which the Wakandans used on almost all of their gadgets and armor. But while T’Challa was faced with the challenges of ascending to the throne while still upholding his moral beliefs, an outsider with connections to Wakanda named Eric Killmonger showed up, claiming the Wakandan throne to be his by birthright. Yet, as the movie dug deeper into both T’Challa’s conflict and that of Killmonger, it turned out that Killmonger’s pursuits were for more personal reasons than initially expected.
I will start off by pointing out that ever since Black Panther came out, people have been worshiping it like there was no tomorrow, saying it was the first black-led superhero movie ever made. Of course, when you get down to it, many of the statements people made in praise of this movie may have been blown out of proportion. For one thing, Black Panther was not the first black superhero movie – Blade and Spawn had that honor before this movie came out – nor was Black Panther himself the first black superhero to be seen in the visual arts. I can think of other black superheroes we saw in visual media before we saw Black Panther, such as, say, Cyborg from Teen Titans or John Stewart, one of the Green Lanterns. Although, when you look at the original comics, you’d see that Black Panther, the character, was indeed one of the first, if not the first, black superheroes to ever appear in comics in general, dating as far back as the mid to late 60s.
So yeah, the praise for this film may have been misguided, but I think I know exactly what they loved about this film, and it’s for the same reasons that I adore this film. It isn’t necessarily the fact that it’s a black-led superhero film or even that it has a primarily black ensemble of characters that made people go wild with excitement. I think that it had something to do with Black Panther being the first black-led superhero movie to emphasize on African culture, its history and its approach on traditionalism vs. colonialism.
We have all heard of how African culture functioned and what became of it after many African people were kidnapped and used as slaves. But in Black Panther, we were given a more intimate approach on it through the eyes of T’Challa and the Wakandans. Not only that, but Wakanda itself was just a beauty to look at, not just for what it stood for, or for its technological advancements, but simply as a reflection of how African cultures and civilizations could have developed. How far they could’ve come had the Africans not had to deal with colonialism or slavery. This was what I thought about after seeing Black Panther, since the closest thing to countries I knew of that had a good balance of traditional upholding and technological prosperity would be such countries as China, Japan or Korea.
Getting back on track, the African traditions, as seen through Wakanda, also helped me form a strong connection with the characters, who were all just amazing and interesting in their own way. T’Challa, the Black Panther, was identifiabnle in his struggles to figure out how to rule Wakanda as king while also working out how to take it in a more prosperous and developmental direction. Half the time, he’s like the noble hero we all wanted to root for, but other times he’s like a role model in whose position we could easily see ourselves in as we discovered what actions needed to be taken for Wakanda’s sake. In my opinion, I found his character arc to be more cohesive after watching Captain America: Civil War, where he made his public debut. On its own, in this movie, it may seem standard, if not uninteresting, but the struggles still felt engaging enough for me to stay on his side every step of the way.
The supporting characters were some of the strongest that I have ever seen. The movie is filled with so many memorable characters who all had unique aspects to them, that we can’t help but get a kick out of them every time they’re on screen. You have...
— Nakia, T’Challa’s ex-wife, played by Lupita Nyong’o, who wouldn’t have hesitated to do what’s right for Wakanda, and especially for T’Challa.
— Shuri, T’Challa’s sister, who was a wisecracker, a high-ranking technician, and provided us a taste of Wakanda’s technological gizmos.
— Okoye, a high ranking, fierce warrior who would have done whatever it took to uphold the Wakandan values, no matter who sat on the throne.
— W’Kabi, a good friend of T’Challa who, deep down, wanted Wakanda to move in a new direction that would’ve made the nation less likely to be victimized by outside forces. Oh, and he also had a pet rhinoceros on him, which was cool too.
— Baku, the leader of a separate African tribe who held a grudge against Wakanda throughout its very existence until a change of circumstances caused him to rethink his grudge.
— Ulysses Claw, a slightly eccentric old enemy of Wakanda who had a role in stealing vibranium from the kingdom and had a cybernetic arm.
— Russell, a CIA agent, played by Martin Freeman, who T’Challa knew from back in America and got mixed in with the conflict surrounding Wakanda after almost being sold a piece of vibranium by Claw.
— Zuri, a Wakandan preist who had affiliations with King T'Chaka and was connected to events that motivated Killmoger in his quest for the Wakandan throne.
And finally, you have the villain, Eric Killmonger.
He was just excellent not just as a character, but as a villain. He can give off menacing qualities when he showed it, and when you learn more about why he ventured into Wakanda for the throne and what he wanted to do with Wakanda under his rule, you can understand where he’s coming from. Without me giving anything away, let’s just say that the events from his past made him a tragic villain, and it would’ve gotten to a point where you’d be left unsure whether to despise him or feel sorry for him. Those are all qualities of a good, sympathetic villain.
When I read some of the reviews for this movie, some of them said that the closest thing to a gripe they had with it was the visual effects and...yes, it isn’t necessarily the best. They ranged from flaky to pretty sloppy, and part of me wishes that the creative staff spent some more time to fine-tune them.
Unsurprisingly, but also reassuringly, the news came out that a sequel to Black Panther will be made, complete with writer and director Ryan Coogler to jump back on board. Until it comes out, I can’t wait to see how he continues the story of T’Challa and the Kingdom of Wakanda.
However, these news are nowhere near as astonishing as the news of the movie’s accomplishments at the Oscars: seven nominations under its belt, including, of all things, one for Best Picture. And considering that Black Panther is a superhero movie – and one from Marvel – it only makes this feat even more monumental.
And would you believe that Black Panther received so much attention throughout 2018, that the Oscars even wanted to throw in a new category that would recognize the excellence in "Popular Film"? All in the hopes that Black Panther would get a guaranteed nomination in that category, if not for Best Picture? This decision was lambasted by almost everyone in the next minute and then withdrawn not too long after, but the movie left that big a mark on the entertainment industry.
And why shouldn’t it? Black Panther may not be perfect, but it is one of the most powerful and profoundly stirring superhero movies that has ever been made, and I’m happy to see countless people embrace it with open arms, even if it’s partially for the wrong reasons. As the saying goes:
– In addition to learning about African culture through Black Panther, it's interesting how Disney, who produced this movie, had a good track record as of late of exploring other foreign cultures through its movies as authentically as possible. That includes Polynesian culture, as seen through the eyes of Moana, and Mexican culture, as seen through the lens of Coco.
– Before seeing Black Panther, I had only seen Iron Man and The Avengers. After seeing this movie and Avengers: Infinity War in theaters, I became compelled to watch every single movie from the Marvel Cinematic Universe to get myself all caught up. After re-watching this one, where I’m at right now, I have only two movies to go before Captain Marvel. Bring it on, Marvel!