The King of Wakanda breaks records and makes history in “Black Panther”
It’s been a long wait for the solo Black Panther movie, but it was well worth it! Aptly released during Black History Month, Black Panther has shattered pre-sale ticket records, debuted on Rotten Tomatoes with a perfect 100% score (currently sitting at 98%), and is expected to blow up the box office in its opening weekend. It’s the royal treatment fit for a (Wakandan) king.
Truthfully, every ounce of this live-action adaptation starring the legendary Avenger is nuanced, paying extra attention to detail. It brings the pages of the comics and a social consciousness surrounding race and culture to life. Each layer of the construct is peeled back and then strung together, dangling like catnip in front of eager audiences – the world is going wild for Black Panther!
Created by Marvel artist Jack Kirby, Black Panther debuted in the pages of the July 1966 comic book, Fantastic Four #52, with the words “Introducing the sensational Black Panther” bursting on the cover. Fantastic Four originated in 1961 but it’s in this 1966 issue that the Black Panther – and the nation of Wakanda – was introduced. It wasn’t until May of 1968, in Avengers #52, that the Panther King would join the famous team of superheroes – but these events unfold differently in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). On the big screen, Black Panther was introduced in 2016’s Captain America: Civil War, and at long last, this February, Black Panther unleashes the origins of his reign, the honour of his people, and the unique adversity of his nation. At this point in the comic king’s sovereignty, it doesn’t matter how or even when his solo movie happened, it just matters that it did.
Leading up to this monumental time in film and black history, T’Challa / Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman, Get On Up, Captain America: Civil War) mourns the loss of his father, King T’Chaka (John Kani, 2019’s The Lion King), who was targeted and killed in a terrorist attack in Civil War. Now in Black Panther, T’Challa must return home to Wakanda as the nation’s rightful leader to defend the throne (and the rest of the world) from his father’s killer, South African arms dealer, Ulyssese Klaue (Claw), played by Andy Serkis (The Hobbit, War for the Planet of the Apes).
In an opening Marvel prologue unlike any other, Black Panther serves an animated description of Wakanda and its history. It explains how Wakanda’s natural resource of vibranium – a rare, naturally occurring meteoric ore with energy-manipulating qualities – powers the entire hidden kingdom lead by T’Challa, and why they choose to keep it a secret from the rest of the planet. To put into perspective how powerful vibranium is, Captain America’s famous shield is made from it, and when in the wrong hands, could cause severe (and in King T’Chaka’s case) fatal damage. The depths of Wakanda’s lineage could take much longer to explain, but the lead-in animation is whimsical and concise in its delivery. It’s a fresh introduction to an intricate and well-developed superhero story.
From the opening scenes, Wakanda casts a spell. The fictional African nation and its people become as enticing as they are beautiful. Powered completely by vibranium, Wakanda is home to the most advanced technology in the world. Where there’s power (especially in the MCU), there is a dark virtue longing to possess it. The Wakandan way of life is woven seamlessly into a much more complex and exhilarating plot that takes off immediately and keeps you engaged until the very last frame.
Director Ryan Coogler (the first African-American director in the MCU) elevates the Black Panther movie magic with his authentic connection to the subject matter: “For me, in retrospect, I realized a lot of what I deal with as an artist is with themes of identity,” Coogler says in an interview with Variety. “I think it’s something common among African-Americans. For us, we’ve got a strange circumstance in terms of our view of ourselves.”
Another impressive attribute of this film is the shared screen time between all the main characters. In Wakanda, loyalty is everything, and the king entrusts his personal bodyguards (the all-female Dora Milaje) to help defend his kingdom. Even on a mission to recover what poses a threat to their nation and its secrets, T’Chala turns to his female allies – Nakia his love interest (Lupita Nyong’o, Queen of Katwe), Okoye of the Dora Milaje (Danai Gurira, The Walking Dead), Shuri his sister (Letitia Wright, Ready Player One), and Queen Ramonda his mother (Angela Bassett, 911) – to give him the confidence and support he needs to succeed. There is a particular ferocity Wakandan women bring to this major motion picture and it’s commanding – Nakia and Okoye may have even upstaged the Black Panther in a fight scene or two. Wakandan women are the physical embodiment of the word fierce.
The plot is majestic and the storyline weaves through different time frames and locations featuring other characters from Wakanda like W’Kabi (Daniel Kaluuya, Get Out), M’Baku (Winston Duke, Modern Family), N’Jobu (Sterling K. Brown, This Is Us), Zuri (Forest Whitaker, Rogue One), and American Agent Everett K. Ross (Martin Freeman, The Hobbit), who fans may recognize from previous MCU films. Plot holes come together solidly when a certain turn of events lead to the victimization of the film’s antagonist Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan, Fantastic Four, Creed), and a different type of villain rises from a very real depiction of marginalized and underprivileged communities in America.
Michael B. Jordan is phenomenal as Erik Killmonger, and his rage for a world that sits back and allows his community to suffer brings out the worst in him. Black Panther is the first superhero movie where you actually understand why one of the villains is doing what he does – even if it’s wrong. One of the defining moments for Erik Killmonger is when he compares how Wakanda hides from the world to slavery, saying he would rather jump ship than be shackled. Through his character, Black Panther renders how marginalized communities are treated, both in America and around the world, and how the prejudice of that treatment could turn into violent hostility. This isn’t just a movie about a man in a state-of-the-art catsuit.
These easter eggs of privilege are sprinkled throughout the film like seasoning, eloquently placed in moments of comedic relief or solemn tragedy, and they’re either relatable, understandable, or completely over your head – it depends on how conscious you are of systemic racism. We need to stop treating “black movies” like a genre and start seeing them as we do any other movie. There’s a clear difference, you just have to want to see it.
The overall hype that built this movie up to be a legendary superhero classic did not fall short whatsoever. Black Panther pounces through the bullseye in every avenue of expectation, and expectations were extremely high for this one. After the announcement of the all-black cast (who later brought the world to a halt with their fashionable and culturally empowering premiere looks), this film just explodes with authentic movie magic.
Marvel describes T’Challa as “the Black Panther – a righteous king, noble Avenger, and fearsome warrior. Under his leadership, the African nation of Wakanda has flourished as one of the most technologically advanced countries in the world. And though he’s a card-carrying member of the Avengers, his first loyalty lies with his people, and he will defend them to his last breath.” Chadwick Boseman doesn’t just embody this, he’s become it. His portrayal is flawless and the level of humanity that his character exudes is not only heartwarming, it’s inspiring. Anyone can have power, but it’s what they do with that power that truly defines who they are and what they represent – “the wise build bridges while the foolish build barriers.”
By the end of the 2h 15m roundtrip to Wakanda, there is a thirst for more! Perhaps that’s just a reflection of today’s incessant hunger for the next hit of entertainment, but you can count on fans seeing this in theatres more than once. No word yet on the release of Black Panther 2, but T’Chala the Panther King will return to the big screen this Spring in Avengers: Infinity War. Until then, absorb Black Panther’s impeccable cast, cinematography, CGI, wardrobe, makeup, soundtrack, laugh out loud one-liners (including a mandatory cameo by Marvel creator Stan Lee), representation of female empowerment, technological components, and not one but two after-the-credits-scenes! Good ones this time!
Black Panther is truly a marvel of a movie; T’Challa, the Panther King, and the kingdom of Wakanda may all be fictitious, but the impact this movie is having on society is as real as it comes.
5 Popcorn Kernals / 5
About the Author
Joey Viola is the Co-Founder of MoJo Toronto and an LGBTQ community leader who utilizes his passion and flair for the art of writing by bringing a fresh perspective in reviewing entertainment and advocating for equality, tolerance, and social/political justice.