“Black Panther” tells the story of prince T’Challa returning to the fictitious African nation of Wakanda to claim the throne following his father’s death in the U.S. as seen in 2016’s “Captain America: Civil War.” In the film directed by Ryan Coogler, T’Challa explores what it means to be a good king while bearing the responsibility of protecting his home, the most technologically advanced place on Earth. This duty becomes increasingly difficult as T’Challa uncovers the secrets of his father’s rule and is confronted by the enemies it created.
“Black Panther” proves itself to be an outlier to not only the Marvel Cinematic Universe but to Hollywood films as a whole.
The film incorporates authentically inspired African culture, and a palate of purple, blue and red hues to create a visually appealing and ethereal tone for the film. The score composed by Swedish composer Ludwig Grönsann orchestrates traditional African instruments like the “Talking Drum” for an authentic atmosphere of African culture. And where appropriate, Grönsann blends this sound with modern techno, Hip-Hop, and orchestral sounds to encapsulate the characters and motifs of “Black Panther.” These qualities come together to create a dreamlike aesthetic that gives its warm, somber and triumphant moments an unfamiliar yet relatable weight.
Beats of fun and beats of tension are woven around a wide cast of characters, each with their own lovable and relatable quirks that make up the collective personality of Wakanda. Although, among the moments of charisma there is some corny humor forcibly sprinkled throughout the film. While not a major distractor, outdated references to internet trends like, “what are those?!” and Willow Smith’s, “whip my hair” are unnecessary and take away from genuine moments with the supporting cast. However, the challenge of humor has been an ongoing struggle for the MCU since it officially began back with the first “Iron Man” film.
Additionally, the diversity of personality among the characters is a slight drawback in that the movie seems to stretch itself thin in terms of characterization with so many bases to cover. This leads to T’Challa being outshined in a lot of ways by his supporting cast. But this could also be perceived as a literary device as it aligns with the theme of the king’s power not coming from the man himself, but from the people whose loyalty he has earned.
T’Challa is also presented as a character that deviates from the quick-witted, arrogant playboy archetype that was used for Iron Man and subsequently cloned for other protagonists like Thor, Starlord, Ant-Man and Dr. Strange. The serious disposition of T’Challa is refreshing for the MCU.
Hollywood does not have the best track record when it comes to telling stories of black characters, much less African characters without mocking the culture or reinforcing harmful stereotypes of African people. The nearly all-black cast and crew of “Black Panther” staunchly interrupt this trend and signal a paradigm shift in Hollywood filmmaking. However, what makes “Black Panther” great is that it accomplishes this feat while telling a compelling story that transcends race.
The duality of tradition and progress, the merits of merciful and wrathful leaders, selfishness and altruism, the joys and pains of family relationships are examined in a way that is detached from race, thus making the film much more than, “a black movie.”
Coogler is an accomplished storyteller with films like Fruitvale Station and Creed under his belt. He brings that same craft to “Black Panther” as he effortlessly layers the themes mentioned before with a political and sociological subtext that is bold in some places and subtle in others.
It is this convection of ideas that isolates “Black Panther” from other superhero movies as the most mature and thoughtful of all the action-packed melodramas of the superhero genre. In a quasi-Deadpool fashion, “Black Panther” narrows the third wall that separates the MCU and the real world by unapologetically acknowledging and commenting on race as well as the plight of African people in America. This awareness is new for a generally light-hearted genre. And while bleak in its fictitiousness, the lens of a near-infinitely affluent African nation bolsters the fantasy aspects of the film and lends itself to a unique perspective for assessing the African diaspora.
Overall, “Black Panther” is a refreshing installment into the Marvel Cinematic Universe and Hollywood blockbusters. As a film with many moving parts and hype to match, it ultimately delivers with a thoughtful and entertaining action film with cultural impact. Easily one of the top 5 movies of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and one of the greatest superhero movies across the genre, “Black Panther” is another home run for Marvel Studios and a must-see for moviegoers of all tastes.
– Carrington Tatum is an electronic media sophomore