Having made his stunning debut in ‘Captain America: Civil War,’ we have all had a taste of the Black Panther, king of the fictional comic book African country of Wakanda. He can stand fist-for-fist with any Avenger, but unlike his superhero peers in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, he is a monarch of his own country composed of five different tribes.
‘Black Panther’ explores all of this and more. Wrapped around the superhero genre, the film is actually more about how T’Challa bears the heavy burden that is the crown of a country that is hiding from the world because of its unique resources and advanced technology. The Wakandas have lived in peace and has grown into a country of five very different tribes, with a culture untouched by the ravages of the outside world.
Everything about ‘Black Panther’ is refreshing and new. Director Ryan Coogler manages to juggle various themes and still deliver a fun, exciting comic book movie with a villain and great action sequences, while also playing out the challenges of a newly crowned king as he is forced to make a decision about the fate of his country’s future. Things are further complicated when politics come into play and he has his own personal demons to face, both internal conflicts and familial.
Chadwick Boseman is more than capable of handling this complex character within this dynamic story, and brings to T’Challa a regal and majestic nature without making him inaccessible. He easily captures Black Panther’s royal nature but still allows him moments of wonder to the amazing world around him. Yes, he is a king, but he is also a superhero, and it makes it so easy for us to invest in him.
But as much as this is Black Panther’s movie, the script still has space and time for well-rounded supporting characters that fill Wakanda and make it a realistic place. From Lupita Nyong’o, who plays Nakia of the River Tribe, who has missions in the outside world, to General Okoye, played by Danai Gurira, captain of the Dora Milaje, the king’s guard. The other tribes of Wakanda are well represented here including W’kabi, played by Daniel Kaluuya, and M’Baku of the mountain tribe, played by Winston Duke. Stealing many of the scenes, though, is Letitia Wright, who plays T’Challa’s sister, Shuri, a very contemporary take on an African princess, who also happens to be a brilliant inventor and scientist.
Despite its huge scope and multi-layered narrative, “Black Panther” takes time to develop each character and their relationships with each other. There are little moments that are shared between T’Challa and Nakia, T’Challa and Okoye, Okoye and W’kabi, M’Baku and Nakia, Shuri with every character in the film, that are special and deepen each character’s internal world. There is history here, that is hinted upon, that enriches the story and not distract from the plot.
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The action sequences and the use of CGI effects are some of the best in the genre, but it’s the world building that is the most impressive. Everything feels fresh and new. The film’s pace is fast and even if there’s so much happening, it’s easy to follow and there’s just the right amount of humor, drama, and action to keep your interest going.
All art is political and there are many powerful statements being made in “Black Panther” but never does the film ever feel like it’s moralizing or preaching. It’s so intrinsic into its narrative and it’s so fitting into the superhero genre that it tackles all these important beats without ever getting self-righteous.
It’s an important film, mostly for its positive representation of black people and culture, and it celebrates this and takes joy in this, and it invites us to celebrate it with them, even if this isn’t our race. That’s the most powerful thing about this movie. There is so much joy in it: in the statements it makes and in the genre that it is allowed to make them in.
With a running time of two hours and fourteen minutes, 'Black Panther' is full and satisfying, but leaves you wanting for more stories about Wakanda, its people, and its king. Marvel’s marketing was on point: there’s a new king in town. All hail to the king.