Marvel’s Black Panther feels nothing like a Marvel movie, and that’s a good thing
Superhero fatigue has plagued the movie industry for quite some time; one can’t help but find the whole CGI explosion phenomenon a little worn thin after well over a decade. This is where Black Panther excels; almost everything about this film separates itself from the traditional mold, whether it’s the brilliant set design, the pacing or the fact that this isn’t a movie about a hero but more a story about royal strife.
Every leap the film takes in the opposite direction of the genre, sticks the landing.
Ryan Coogler, known for single handedly making the Rocky series enthralling again with 2015’s Creed, takes helm as the film’s director. His creative edge, along with an immensely talented cast, propels Black Panther to be the movie that a tired genre desperately needs.
Initially tricking its audience into thinking it follows the standard formula, Black Panther starts with a flashback to set up the plot, followed by a high-octane fight sequence. After this initial setup, the film changes gears from the usual safe-pacing of superhero films and introduces the film’s most dynamic and engaging character—not a person, but the reclusive high-tech nation of Wakanda.
The fictional African country feels anything but fictional as the film immediately introduces its societal laws, culture, and government. At this point we get to see protagonist T’Challa (played with immense royal gravitas by Chadwick Boseman) take his throne and accept the responsibility of the nation’s protector and hero, the titular Black Panther.
Where normally most introductory superhero films have a slow build to the protagonist donning the mask, Black Panther immediately throws T’Challa into the role. From this point on, the film elegantly genre hops from an espionage spy caper, to a story of royal betrayal, and eventually settles on a war for the throne narrative. All of this is well executed, but would be nothing without the film’s dynamic cinematography and phenomenal supporting cast.
Lupita Nyong’o shines as Nakia, T’Challa’s former lover and spy for Wakanda. Letitia Wright provides accessible exposition for Wakanda’s technology as Shuri, T’Challa’s kid sister and scientific genius. Michael B. Jordan even makes for a surprisingly sympathetic villain as Erik “Killmonger” Stevens. However, The Walking Dead’s Danai Gurira steals the show as Okoye, the general in charge of T’Challa’s all-female royal guard, the Dora Milaje.
Black Panther uses all the tools in the arsenal of filmmaking to portray seamless world-building and character development, and even though the movie is damn near perfect in portraying issues of race and cultural divide, it does have a few shortcomings— primarily the Marvel curse. This curse being a climactic third act when the villain acquires an advantage over the seemingly untouchable hero by simply becoming an evil version of Black Panther, suit and all.
This feels a little out of place for a movie that for the bulk of its narrative succeeds and excels in being nothing like its predecessors.
However, this blip is forgivable as the entirety of the movie keeps one engaged and continuously provides thought-provoking subject matter, and action that never gets boring.
Black Panther is not only an achievement in superhero films, but also the entire medium of filmmaking itself. It’s Afrofuturistic design and straightforwardness in addressing social and political issues pertaining to race and society allows the audience to get lost in its world, but never lets the viewer forget the issues that exist in ours.
Directed by Ryan Coogler