Black Panther is a 2018 comic book, superhero film based on the Marvel Comics character of the same name. The eighteenth film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it was written by Joe Robert Cole and Ryan Coogler, who also directed, and stars Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Martin Freeman, Daniel Kaluuya, Letitia Wright, Winston Duke, Angela Bassett, Forest Whitaker and Andy Serkis. After the death of his father T’Chaka in Captain America: Civil War, T’Challa returns home to be crowned King of Wakanda, but find his rule and Wakandan traditional challenged by outside Erik Killmonger.
Black Panther is a tightly constructed film with virtually no loose ends and no unnecessary, tangential story and plot points that lead nowhere and contribute nothing. Everything that happens on screen – every beat, every scene, every sequence – is an important part of the whole.
It doesn’t feel like a Marvel movie and a big part of that is likely because it doesn’t try to connect to or reference any other Marvel films. At least not overtly. It isn’t bogged down by contrived nods to other Marvel films, not even Captain America: Civil War in which T’Challa/Black Panther made his debut. It’s very self-contained (a reflection of Wakanda’s isolation from the rest of the world) and it perhaps needed that in order to fully commit to telling the story that it did in the way that it did.
Another contributing factor to why it doesn’t feel like your typical MCU fare is that it surprisingly doesn’t shy away from acknowledging slavery and the continued oppression and suffering of person of African descent, not just in the United States, but the world over. It’s more than just another comic-book, superhero, blockbuster, action flick. It has themes, a message and raises important questions, not just about the fictional world that it inhabits, but about the real world as well. It leans into the intraracial politics of Blackness and the responsibilities that Black people have to each other in raising themselves out of their oppression and furthering themselves as a people.
Not a single character in this film is wasted. They all help in telling the story, advancing the plot and extrapolating the themes of the film. None more so that Erik Killmonger, who has become one of, if not the best, Marvel villain to date. He certainly challenges Spider-Man: Homecoming’s Adrian Toomes for that title.
He is the catalyst for everything, particularly the film’s themes and message. His motivations are clear and understandable, he’s relatable and he’s not altogether wrong in his philosophy. It’s very easy to agree and side with him. He makes very salient points about Wakandan international policy and rightfully questions their decision making and rule. The only thing he does wrong is how he goes about executing his philosophy.
Arguably, this is more Killmonger’s film than it is T’Challa’s. T’Challa doesn’t stand out amongst the characters nearly as much as Killmonger does, or much of the rest of the characters for that matter. For T’Challa, his journey in this film is largely internal and is about him coming into his own as King of Wakanda, addressing the mistakes of his predecessors and how we will move Wakanda forward as a nation. In fact, the film is about Wakanda more than anything or anyone else. None of the realisations that T’Challa came to in the film would have been possible without Killmonger. T’Challa learned quite a bit from him. And from Nakia as well who, like Killmonger, thinks that Wakanda should be extending aid to others. However, she wants to save the world and he wants to conquer it.
Unlike most love interests in superhero films, especially Marvel’s, Nakia isn’t just there to be the object of desire for the hero. She has her own mind, her own wants and puts her country ahead of everything else. The latter is best demonstrated in a pivotal scene she shares with Okoye before the climax of the film. She too puts nation above all else, even though the way she goes about that is markedly different from Nakia’s. She also has a scene that firmly establishes that sentiment. Okoye is one of the best characters in the film, not just because she’s a badass warrior with some of the best action moments, but because of her strength of conviction and her commitment to her duties.
Two other characters who outshone T’Challa were Shuri and M’Baku.
Shuri had a lot of personality, she was fun, adorable, had quite a few of the comedic moments in the film and had a beautiful brother/sister relationship with T’Challa. She perhaps had too little respect for Wakanda’s traditions (and this entire film as about tradition and the present/future), but as a scientist and innovator it made sense that she would care less about that. Her enthusiasm for science and technology was exciting.
M’Baku was just an all-around cool guy and his attitude made him insanely likeable. He too had quite a few of the film’s comedic moments for himself and they didn’t come off as forced, they came off like that was just how his personality was and that that was something that he would say and the way that he would say it. He’s so likeable, in fact, that he would easily make a great replacement for T’Challa as King of Wakanda.
The cast of Black Panther did very well in their roles. Chadwick Boseman brought a quiet confidence and natural regality to T’Challa and displayed his talent as an actor in his emotional scenes. Michael B Jordan’s portrayal of Killmonger was as fierce, fearless and ruthless as the character himself. Lupita Nyong’o and Danai Gurira played their roles beautifully and their aforementioned exchanged before the film’s climax was a masterful demonstration of the abilities as actresses. Letitia Wright and Winston Duke are no doubt the break out stars of this film. They had an incredible amount of charm and charisma, there was such energy in their performances and they did their justice to their characters.
The costume design in this film was impeccable. Every costume was stylish and fashionable, especially those worn by Shuri, whose wardrobe was beyond enviable. The traditional Wakandan dress was vibrant and amazingly detailed. The costumes of the Dora Milaje, W’Kabi’s Border Tribe and the Jabari are amongst the best on display in the film. There was no better look at Wakandan fashion than the sequences which made up T’Challa’s coronation. Despite being a fictional nation, the traditional clothing felt authentic to real-life traditional African garb.
Even outside of the traditional Wakandan dress, the costume department did stunning work. The clothing worn by T’Challa, Nakia and Okoye during their trek to Busan in search of Klaue were splendid. Killmonger’s Vegeta-reminiscent costume is sure to be iconic.
The one area where this film truly fell down was in its CGI and visual effects. It was painfully apparent when actors were shooting on a green screen, especially in a shot during the final fight between T’Challa and Killmonger that is also oddly framed. The rhinoceroses used in the climactic battle looks so incredibly fake, it’s a wonder that a Marvel film would produce such lackluster CGI. All in all, perhaps more time – and money – should have been spent on this aspect of the film.
Black Panther is a very good film. It is well executed almost across the board. It has great writing and direction, a concise story and plot, salient themes and an important message, likeable, relatable and sympathetic characters, expert acting and impressive costume design. Wakanda may be a fictional African nation, but the film brings together influences from real African tribes and nations to create the fabric of Wakanda and the film is a true celebration of African culture. This is seen especially in the clothing, the rituals, the language and the architecture. It is a departure from the usual Marvel Cinematic Universe fare and a refreshing addition to the franchise.