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Black Panther

Photos: Matt Kennedy/Marvel Studios (header courtesy of Kwaku Alston)

Yoooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo.

Where to begin? Damn…

Straight up, this is the best Marvel movie that could and will ever be made. Not just in 2018. Not just in Phase 3. For their entire catalog and beyond. Whenever Black Panther 2 is released is possibly when it will be surpassed. But for now, this shit right here? Black Panther is everything you ever dreamed and more.

The hype is hella r e a l .

For those of you somehow not in the know already, Wakanda’s greatest hero and cultural icon was officially introduced in the MCU during Captain America: Civil War, after the nation’s king (John Kani) was killed during a U.N. summit bombing. Naturally, Prince T’Challa wanted to get Bucky Barnes’ ass and joined Tony Stark on the Pro-Registration team. Little did Stark know how busted his tech really is compared to T’Challa’s…

Firstly, you have to give it up for the FX teams, art directors, set designers, and costume designers that brought an entire nation to life. The MCU recently delved into more colorful, uncommon designs in the Guardians of the Galaxy and Thor franchises, however nothing was ever so vibrant, evocative, and bleeding edge as what’s seen within the borders of Wakanda. This movie is proudly, confidently, unabashedly Black and it is sublime. As a Person of Color and a longtime fan of the character, this was the film I had always wanted but never knew I was going to see… and it was more than I ever anticipated. Nothing is compromised and everything is refined to near-perfection. Designs aside, one can tell a lot of blood, sweat, and tears was put into the production to create a legitimate African culture in a world filled with such fantastical space-faring rogues, magical beings, and super soldiers. Black Panther retains that mystique and creativity but brings it back to Earth with a powerful, dignified Afrocentric flair. 

Coupled with director Ryan Coogler’s longtime collaborator Rachel Morrison’s piercing cinematography and you’ve a feature that will not be constrained as a “superhero movie” but a bona fide watershed moment in the future of cinema. Hopefully the inevitable success of Black Panther will be the hard push desperately needed in Hollywood to greenlight more films of all genres lead by predominantly non-white casts. Oh, but to dream.

As for its own lead, Chadwick Boseman has settled in comfortably as the King of Wakanda, exuding the right balance of humility, cunning, and resolve necessary to reign over the most advanced nation on the planet. Granted, he never expected to have power transferred over to him under such tragic circumstances, nevertheless he assumes his duty with the help of his mother Ramonda (Angela Bassett) and little sister Shuri (Letitia Wright).

While Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis) is a nice appetizer for T’Challa to prove his worthiness as Damisa-Sarki, once Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) reveals himself among his enemies, he leaves a lasting impression for the remainder of the film. Ironically, Killmonger may be the most sympathetic villain conceived in the MCU. As a warrior born from betrayal and strife, Erik has seen what the world is capable of, particularly how those in power gleefully keep their boot on the neck of the disenfranchised. It was obvious in trailers that Killmonger wants Wakandan streets to flow red with the blood of the royal family, but that is only one objective to his true goal.

click for minor spoilers

Basically, Erik intends to rid the world of all those who have oppressed Black people everywhere with Wakandan tech. Yes, the end may not justify his means – technically he wants to engage in global terrorism – however Killmonger was deftly written as a relatable foil for the audience. In a way, Killmonger is vaguely, vaguely an analogy to Malcolm X during his time in the Nation of Islam. Here is this proud, strong, free thinking Black male who was spurned by all those he believed were his family then radically narrows his worldview, believing the truest threat to his people’s existence is White (or those who’ve prospered from the colonialist lifestyle). Think of all we’ve read and experienced in the past year alone, the open taunting and threats post-election, the vitriol constantly churning online. The repeated justified shootings and jailhouse abuses. When you take into account what Black America alone has endured, Killmonger’s extreme stance for a global uprising doesn’t really seem all that terrible.

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Killmonger’s mission would spell Wakanda’s inevitable doom, nevertheless T’Challa and his enemy share a similar view of life outside the nation, though His Majesty’s perspective is far more refined and idealistic. In essence, the King is Malcolm After Mecca. His distrust in the world is still present (he could have reacted far more harshly after his father’s death), yet T’Challa knows there are allies of all creeds and colors beyond Wakanda that share a hope for a thriving future. This Panther walks along a delicate precipice that requires him to be deliberate and exacting with his associations. It’s a new world that is slowly beginning to catch up with Wakanda’s measure. Enhanced beings are knocking on their doorstep threatening the sanctity and security of the nation. Not only does T’Challa have to convince the tribes he’s worthy of their loyalty but he has to convince himself. By the time the third act begins, things conclude in typical Marvel fashion for The King and his subjects but unlike the first 17 films, Black Panther truly renews the landscape of the MCU the likes of which were last seen in perhaps the first Avengers.

Possibly the most exciting beat throughout Black Panther is the resolve and determination of the women, as lead by the Queen Regent Ramonda (Angela Bassett). For those of you not in the know – you poor and unfortunate lot – much has been accomplished through over the generations by our greatest leaders, but it is almost always women who’ve inspired the voice and propelled our nation’s movement for change. This sentiment is manifest in every single woman in Black Panther, from the leads to the stuntwomen. Much of the film was propelled by their fortitude and unheralded acumen; essentially every female lead was a living testament to Wakanda’s pride and vision.

Ramonda provides guile and diplomacy needed to bring rivals together, Shuri exudes the steadfast loyalty one expects from a sister as well as an unexampled intelligence. Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o) represents the generosity and compassion of her people, and Okoye, leader of the Dora Milaje – portrayed by the forever cool and always fly Danai Gurira – represents the mighty hand of Wakanda with her unrivaled strength and skill. After this movie it wouldn’t be surprising if you go “Black Widow who???”

T’Challa may be the figurehead in the world of outsiders, and to many the light that will guide Wakanda to a brighter tomorrow, yet it’s women where the nation’s heart rests and beats resoundingly. As I mentioned, each lead displays a particular trait though none of them are in want one way or the other. They are highly educated, confident, and committed to the cause in ridding the world of injustice, for PoC and most especially, other women. Certainly when it comes to all supporting cast – including the memorable Winston Duke as M’Baku and Daniel Kaluuya as W’Kabi – there have been few films in recent memory that created such well-rounded characters.

This is especially so for the antagonists, who are notoriously one-dimensional in Marvel films. The lines are clearly drawn for who is good and bad, but like Killmonger’s own tale Coogler and co-writer Joe Robert Cole drew the right amount of empathy for these embattled characters. There are a lot of heavy concepts thrown around like tradition, antiauthoritarianism, and regicide yet none of these motivators feel unrelatable to the audience because we can perceive the inner conflict among each “villain”. They truly want what is best for Wakanda and for the most part their views on how to get there aren’t entirely quashed. For example, early in the film, a challenge is called and received. A victor emerges and the result of the battle is accepted by all, including the defeated. Rather than seek other means to usurp power or vengeance, the two rivals attempt to form a bond, because ultimately they recognize within each other a desire to better their glorious country.

Or as we say in contemporary vernacular, when you eat, your whole squad eats.

While the general consensus was Captain America: Civil War revitalized the MCU by introducing a richer complexity to the superhero dynamic, Black Panther confidently scales over the standard established at the onset of Phase 3 with feet to spare, retooling the scope and imbuing the MCU with a vigor and ambition that’ll propel the studio well into Phase 4. Once more, Marvel Studios scores by giving Coogler and his players a chance to bring their flavor rather than sticking to the stodgy “Marvel Way”. Funny what can be accomplished when you don’t hold a people down.

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About Rexlor Graymond (477 Articles)
Rex Graymond is 24.6kg tripolymer composite, 11.8kg beryllium-nickel-titanium alloy. Constructed in Northern California. Loves comics and films almost as much as pancakes. ALMOST.
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