One of the most highly anticipated movies not just of 2018, but since it was first officially added to the Marvel movie calendar back in 2005. Black Panther has officially hit the big screen adding another box office success to Marvel’s portfolio. But was it worth all the hype?
The titular hero and his alter ego Prince T’Challa were first introduced to audiences back in 2016’s Captain America: Civil War, portrayed by the effortlessly cool Chadwick Boseman. The Black Panther movie picks up straight after those events with King T’challa filling his father’s shoes as leader of the technologically advanced nation of Wakanda, hidden from the world behind a cloaking device in the middle of Africa.
First off, Boseman’s performance needs to be commended, T’challa’s character is a particularly difficult part to pull off, needing to juggle comic timing and a suave demeanour that will give your favourite Bond performance a run for their money and still come across as a respected leader.
Black Panther‘s supporting cast has also been one of the main draws of the movie, made up of more than 95% black actors. They overwhelming deliver, from Danai Gurira’s (The Walking Dead) portrayal of Okaye, the cutthroat head of Wakandan’s royal guard, to Letitia Wright’s (Black Mirror) Shuri as the Wakandan equivalent of Bond’s Q bringing some comic relief and stunning Jaguar shaped gauntlets as a bonus.
Every Wakandan character adds a little to the culture of the nation from the role of women, to their respect for the elderly and religion, to their warrior’s loyalty, it’s a great way to world build without having to spend too much time away from the plot filling in the gaps of exactly what it is the characters are fighting to save or conquer.
The only character who doesn’t particularly feed into the world of Wakanda is the film’s antagonist Erik Killmonger, because he encapsulates the current reality of many black people. Already heralded as the best superhero villain since Thor’s Loki was first introduced, seeing Michael B Jordan’s fearsome and thoroughly understandable character is hypnotising throughout. His lines of dialogue are rarely confined to the realms of the film, they’re meant to force an audience to reflect on their reality. The first time we’re introduced to the character is in a London museum as he examines a Wakandan artifact commenting “how do you think your ancestors got them?”, just one of the film’s many lines referring to British and American colonialism.
The cultural significance of Black Panther was always going to be a key talking point, from the casting, to the storyline focusing on the idea of how an African nation could have evolved into through peace, technology, and as pointed out directly by director Ryan Coogler, “what Africa could have been if it had never been colonised”. What was far less obvious in Black Panther’s trailers and synopsis is just how far engrained current black culture is in the plot of Black Panther. The movie revolves around very real-world issues of racism targeting black culture and what the best ways of combating that are. It’s genuinely surprising to see such divisive topics brought up in a Marvel movie, but it’s hugely refreshing to see a studio constantly striving to push towards change in an industry they have such a powerful voice within.
Black Panther’s plot may be a little overplayed within the superhero franchise, depicting a more or less straight rise, fall and redemption story arc and some slightly lacklustre fight scenes, but Black Panther’s merging of aesthetics, cast and cultural message are a real delight that we’ve not seen in such a large scale blockbuster movie for a long time.