Updated: Dec 23, 2020
If you haven’t seen this one already, Wakanda person are you? (I’m sorry the lockdown is getting to me)
Unlike any Marvel movie you’ve ever seen, Black Panther is groundbreaking in so many ways.
It took Marvel a decade, 18 films – most great, some amazing, none bad – hundreds of actors, thousands of crew and billions of dollars for the MCU to arrive here. This movie is so much more about the superhero, it’s about respecting the past as it is about embracing the future. And there are hardly any aspects of a society that this movie doesn’t touch. From the place of women in society to leadership in a country to sibling goals, it sets an ideal for our world today.
After the events of Captain America: Civil War, Prince T'Challa returns home to the well-hidden, technologically advanced African nation of Wakanda to serve as his country's new king, soon to find that he is challenged for the throne from factions within his own nation. When two foes conspire to destroy Wakanda, the Black Panther must team up with C.I.A. agent Everett K. Ross and members of the Dora Milaje, Wakandan special forces, to prevent Wakanda from being dragged into a world war. The movie meddles with two very different kinds of cultures, both black, but from neither ends of the world.
As should be obvious by now, Black Panther brings together one of the most impressive mainly black cast ever assembled for any major Hollywood movie. Andy Serkins and Martin Freeman are the only two significant white characters.
When the villain succeeds in making your eyes tear up despite trying to murder the hero, you know you’re in the presence of great storytelling and acting. Killmonger, played by a very very good looking Michael B Jordan, is without even a hint of doubt, the sort of villain we love. His motivation are beyond reproach. It’s one of those few occasions when the villain is the hero of his story, and it makes complete sense.
Coming to my favourite part. It’s fantastic that so many of the film’s central characters are female. The movie has been widely praised for its strong feminist characters and depicting the women of Wakanda as savvy warriors who are conscious of their power and know-how to use it. (You’ll want to scream “YAAS KWEEN” more than 10 times during the movie, I promise.)
We get to behold the power of the Dora Milaje, the all-female protection squad, and two of Wakanda’s fiercest warriors, Nakia ( played by Lupita Nyong’o) and Okoye ( by Danai Gurira). From the very start, the story goes against the sexist cliché that we are accustomed to watching in movies. The women’s sex appeal is obvious but secondary to their personality and skill. They are soldiers in battle; equally entrusted with guiding and protecting the nation, they do not need to be rescued, sustained or lauded by men.
Watching Okoye drop snarky sarcastic comments here and there, Nakia kick exploitative white men’s ass right left and centre and Shuri dazzle the poor CIA agent with her technical wizardry was a treat.
This is a film that does not merely pass the Bechdel test, it demolishes it. Moreover, there is an extraordinary richness and depth to the female characters, in their interactions both with T’Challa—as a mother, as a sister, as a lover, as a bodyguard and with one another. A scene later in the movie in which Nakia and Okoye question the basis of one another’s loyalties is among the best in the entire movie.
It’s interesting to note that during the movie, T’Challa speaks with his dead father, who advises him to “surround yourself with people you trust.” T’Challa follows this advice and surrounds himself almost exclusively with women.
The fight sequences are much better than usual. (still greater female to male ratio of three-to-one.) While the movie heavily rests on a customarily big, CGI-laden battle, neither side is populated by faceless warriors and random mayhem. They square up on the significant characters and show their individual battles which makes it ten times more interesting.
There is not enough that can be said about what he has achieved with this film. Qualified minds will continue discussing it for years, videos will be made, articles will be written, it will be discussed among people of all ages, all races, all shapes and sizes; it will be seen as the moment everything changed.
It’s not like other superhero movies haven’t dabbled in big ideas; some of them being the Dark Knight, and the X-Men franchise to a lesser degree. But their commitments to the moral and political questions they contemplated were relatively weaker and peripheral. The arguments Black Panther undertakes are central to its architecture, a spine that runs from the first scene to the last. This movie stands up for what it believes in unapologetically and doesn’t back down.
Whether or not this is the best film Marvel Studios has made to date, it is the bravest. All hail the new king.