Marvel’s Black Panther was released on the 12th of February, & so far has made almost $1.1 billion at the Box Office. Directed by Ryan Coogler and produced by Kevin Feige and David J Grant, it’s an excellent superhero origin story. Marvel’s made a great effort to produce a central narrative around the minority, rather than creating yet another film focalised from a white point of view. The one ‘token’ white character Agent Everett Ross (acted by Martin Freeman) is included in the story but does not directly affect it, as the story follows T’challa (acted by Chadwick Boseman) & his journey to his throne. The main characters come from the mystical land of Wakanda, a small technologically advanced hidden nation in Africa completely un-affected by colonisation and the World Wars – an African Utopia where science has improved the lives of the natives & can even teach the Western World a few things. Wakanda has an unlimited amount of Vibranium, (the same material used in Captain America’s star-spangled shield.
The cast of Black Panther was inspired, all of the actors amply becoming their characters and bringing the narrative to life. Okoye (acted by Danai Gurira) M’Baku (acted by Winston Duke) making the most commendable effort to fully embody Wakandan warriors, passionate & adept with weaponry and fighting skills. The villain Killmonger is a three dimensional character with an emotional backstory, & as the story progresses he unravels. His character is compelling and Michael B. Jordan really becomes menacing, vengeful & malevolent, everything needed to be a convincing Marvel villain. Killmonger’s character really lives up to the old African proverb “A child that has been rejected by his village will burn it down just to feel it’s warmth”. Though the characterisation was near flawless, some of the characters seemed to adopt a Quasi-African accent, and others sounded South African and Nigerian, which was a little confusing at times.
The visual backdrop presented a rich tapestry of culture & all the decadence that you would expect from a technologically advanced safe haven in Africa. The level of detail used to create the inner city streets of Wakanda, the Vibranium transportation system and the futuristic tech we got a peek at in Shuri’s lab (acted by Leticia Wright) sets an example and a standard for what we can hope to see in Infinity War. Black Panther showed us what was possible – technology wise, & gave a small glimpse of the true (& mostly hidden beauty of Africa) from a non-western point of view. The use of what looked like a Kenyan Safari as an ancestral heaven worked especially well, showing the former kings in a timeless natural space.
The costume design was impeccable, every detail and element tied in together really well. The costume designer Ruth E Carter did a brilliant job of creating clothing worthy of technologically advanced Africans, allowing it be futuristic, but still have a heavily cultural feel by adding real elements of various African cultures. The Wakandans represented different elements of Africa; such as the ritual for Kingship that may have drawn inspiration from a Congolese tribe called the Azande, & the red clay braids that the Ova Himba tribeswomen of Angola and Namibia adorn their heads with. Including these references makes a nice effort to inform us about different variations of African cultural dress and beauty standards.
So let’s talk about the narrative. At this point, if you haven’t watched BP – please don’t read any further. Killmonger was born in LA to his Wakandan prince father & American mother. Former King T’chaka (acted by John Kani) had a moral dilemma, knowing his brother intended to give vibranium to an outsider. T’chaka left Killmonger behind with his brother’s clawed corpse, creating a villain. Here we have the classic tale of the heroes creating a monster by making the wrong choice. We could be angry at Killmonger for what he grows up to be, but we need to take into account why. He’s more than just an angry black man. He’s damaged, abandoned and maybe orphaned, (we never see his mother). He grows up in the system, and works his way through the army and special military corp to get back to Wakanda & conquer it, just like Americans do.
This twist is unique and unexpected, Wakanda is occupied by one of their own! T’challa, Nakia (acted by Lupita Nyong’o), Shuri and (for some reason Agent Ross) fight from the inside, using all the technology & ingenuity they can muster. It’s not entirely necessary for Agent Ross to be there, and thankfully I’m sure this was well known, as he doesn’t insert himself into the entire narrative. In fact, there are a few chances for comedic relief with his inclusion. When waking up in Shuri’s lab, Agent Ross startles her, producing one of the best one liners in the film, “don’t sneak up on me, coloniser!”. Another political moment were Killmonger’s dying words (not verbatim, don’t sue me!), “Drop me in the ocean along with my ancestors who knew it was better to drown than live in bondage”, epic!
The only plot hole I can find – and trust me I worked hard to find this one – is Bucky. Where is he? Didn’t T’challa cart him off to Wakanda in Civil War? The only mention I could find was when Shuri says, “great, another broken white boy for us to fix!”. As there was only a slight mention of him in the post-credits, we can only assume that he’ll be present for Infinity War. So we’ll leave that there for now. BP makes an effort at tackling current affairs too, making reference to the Nigerian abduction of teenage girls by the rebel group Boko Haram. In the opening scenes, Nakia is undercover trying to help the Chibok girls escape. Okoye warns the girls not to tell anyone what happened and how they got away. This is an interesting interpretation of how the girls were released, as we are not entirely sure of exactly how it went down in real life either.
The best way to watch Black Panther is in a full cinema screening with Marvel fans, doing this creates the best atmosphere, allowing the comic relief to land, the tension to build & the story arcs to be more prevalent. I went to see it at the Odeon in it’s first week and was both surprised and delighted by the queues and scores of people who had shown up and shown out for the event – some even dressing up for the occasion. I highly recommend it, by far the best film I have seen this year! Make sure you stick around for the post credit scenes.
Also… I hear rumours of a Black Panther 2, #WAKANDAFOREVER.