Directed by: Ryan Coogler
Written by: Ryan Coogler & Joe Robert Cole
Starring: Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Martin Freeman
The common fault found in most superhero films lies in caring more for spectacle rather than the story it tries to build. Part of it comes from knowing one’s audience and their expectations, but the sacrifice of thematic storytelling harms them overall as films. Fortunately, Black Panther found the ability to balance both in the way it introduces this world but also has a message and idea run through its entire runtime.
Returning to Wakanda to assume the throne, T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) wins an initial challenge to wear the crown. Meanwhile, the much-despised Klaue (Andy Serkis) teams up with a new force named Kilmmongerer (Michael B. Jordan) to wreak havoc and unveil he has a connection to the great nation of Wakanda.
Making its way into the world and another entry into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, we have Black Panther, which had incredible hype and delivered on all fronts. The film had a monumental task of basically representing African-American superheroes and if it did not financially succeed, no other chances would be given in the fickle Hollywood system. With those monumental expectations, the reign was given to Ryan Coogler to helm the project, and not only did he create the best film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but also one of the most thematically rich superhero films ever constructed.
Part of that comes from the villain, Killmongerer, who quickly became the greatest villain in the series of films about these Marvel heroes. He, along with Thanos, stick out because they represent ideologies that seem good in some way, but their methods of implementation have deep flaws. Michael B. Jordan’s Killmongerer brings a different perspective to the world of Wakanda and through his influence, it changes the protagonist of the feature. In the journey of Killmmongerer taking on T’Challa and the rest of Wakanda, it opens up a larger discussion about the wealth found in this nation and how it impacts other black folks around the globe.
T’Challa and Killmonger come from the same lineage, but the former was raised in the affluent Wakandan nation while the latter grew up as a poor black kid in the United States. Their upbringing dictates how they see the world and Wakanda’s place in helping oppressed black populations. Therein lies the main objective of Killmongerer’s plan, to distribute the wealth and powerful weaponry Wakanda has stockpiled rather than having it hoarded in one nation while others suffer. This idea directly clashes with T’Challa and his more traditional understanding that Wakanda must remain as a covert third-world nation because this amount of power distributed too widely could make it dangerous for others and the nation itself. The philosophical battle taking place in the film mirrors many issues within underrepresented communities and the distribution of wealth and ideas when success feels so limited.
Michael B. Jordan’s work as Killmnongerer steals the show with the pure physicality he brings to the role but he also delivers the incredible dialogue brought to his character. Almost every word he says reveals more about his character and motive. Even if he represents the villain of the story, everything he does comes from authenticity and he wears his heart on his sleeve. It comes together perfectly for him all the way until the final words he speaks in the feature, which says all you need to know about his character and the bulldozer he represents. He leaves his mark in the story because he genuinely changes the hero in an unexpected way, thus proving himself to have been right, even if his methods were far too damaging. Truly an incredible character and a strong performance to match it.
Along with Jordan, Black Panther has an incredible cast, which holds many acting legends and rising stars of Hollywood. Chadwick Boseman, as T’Challa continues to take control of the character and has become synonymous with him. There are so many great things happening in the story, it becomes easy to forget the good work he puts in once again as the titular character. There’s also Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Daniel Kaluuya, Letitia Wright, and Winston Duke each giving defining performances as supporting characters in the story. They each display bravery, fortitude, and a sprinkle of humor throughout. Their work along with Michael B. Jordan further accentuates how fruitful these characters and roles are and how rich all of the interactions turn out to be.
Black Panther will certainly launch director Ryan Coogler to complete stardom as he takes any budget he receives and returns pure gold. Whether it be his heart-pounding drama Fruitvale Station or coming in and crafting the best Rocky movie in Creed. He knows how to enter a franchise and elevate it to a level it has not seen before. He did that in the boxing series and also in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. One of the many fantastic details of this story arises from Coogler hiring other African-American folks to work on the technical aspects of the film, including the production and costume design. Ruth E. Carter’s costumes immerse us into this fictional world with such elegant details in the clothing worn by the characters. Similarly, Hannah Beechler’s production design makes Wakanda look like a lived-in place and incredibly unique in its Afrofuturism aesthetic. Such a large collaboration, which has a story at its center and the excellence reaches out into all aspects of the movie.
The impact Black Panther will have on the landscape of cinema cannot be understated. It shows an audience exists for these films and demonstrates black excellence on all levels of production. This film pushes past the simplicity of its genre, even if it does have its grand computer-generated battles and other trappings of being a Marvel movie. It more than makes up for it with all the ways it expands what could be done with these comic book stories. From an incredible soundtrack spearheaded by Kendrick Lamar and a sensational score by Ludwig Göransson, who combines African musical beats with hip-hop, this film hits incredible heights of an installment in a series but also stands on its own. The themes remain rich, they move beyond its story into the outer world, and combine them with its sensational action set pieces to create a tremendous feature film.