Black Panther is the latest in the ever-growing collection of films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) taking over $13bn at the box office and with a total of 18 films including Avengers, Iron Man, Guardians of the Galaxy. Black Panther was referred to by the Guardian as “the first major black superhero movie” (hmm, not sure they’ve seen Blade). It’s a strong move by the studio though, and one that has definitely paid off.
Black Panther follows the story of a fictional African nation called Wakanda. From the outside, Wakanda is seen as a third world country, but in truth, it holds an incredible (literally) futuristic society powered by ancient other-worldly technology that was in a meteor that struck Earth millions of years ago. The civilisation is hidden away, conveniently accessible only by flying into some trees (don’t ask).
The introduction to the film is a CGI animated story – beautifully done but the camera pans so quickly around and around that I felt a bit nauseous – even when watching in 2D!
We follow T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) as he navigates becoming king of the world’s most advanced nation (which nobody knows about) whilst battling his father’s biggest mistake – as well as a new enemy, Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan).
The Cast of Black Panther
Whilst the chemistry between some of the actors was occasionally weak, in general, the acting was to a good standard, with a particularly strong supporting cast with a diverse set of actors from all over the world. Oh, and Stan Lee * groan *.
Michael B Jordan and Andy Serkis play a couple of solid bad guys (Erik Killmonger and Ulysses Klaue respectively). In particular, Klaue is the guy you love to hate – a South African arms dealer with no scruples. It’s hard to imagine that massive man acting as the weedy little Gollum, but this tweet was in my head before I watched the film and I couldn’t un-see it:
— yokotaster (@neontaster) February 16, 2018
I particularly enjoyed the struggle between Killmonger and T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) – the former trying desperately to get revenge on those who were responsible for his father’s death, whilst also carrying a burden of anger for the millions of black people who have been abused and murdered throughout history. His anger turns towards Wakanda, a nation that he points out could have effectively intervened at any point but chose not to as it ‘wasn’t their way’, and because they wanted to keep their technology secret.
However justifiable Killmonger’s grievances, his approach is to murder hundreds of people in order to get to T’Challa and kill him: he becomes a fundamentalist, and nothing can stop his anger. Killmonger’s internal pain and bitterness is palpable.
“I’m gonna burn it all” – Killmonger
On the flip side, T’Challa is portrayed as a peaceful, somewhat reluctant leader, brought up to protect Wakanda over all else. His patriotism has huge implications – not only during the years of the slave trade, but also the World Wars and countless other global catastrophes – Wakanda had the power to act but chose to remain hidden. I think it’s actually quite easy to side with Killmonger’s logic (though not his method). It’s also easy to see how he could become radicalised considering he became fatherless at a very young age, like many in the ghettos of the US. “People die. That’s just how things go around here,” he says.
T’Challa, for me, represents an interesting parallel in our post-colonial world: he is a King, embarrassed about his nation’s past, much like I as a British citizen (or those of many other nations involved in colonialism and slave trading) might — indeed should feel. But rather than sending heartfelt apologies, he decides that he needs to acknowledge his nation’s mistakes and move forward by changing the way that they interact with the world. In his case, Wakanda has technology that could easily improve the state of the world. This was an elegant way of approaching the subject without actively pointing the figure at individual nations: though Killmonger doesn’t shy away from that.
“I’d rather die like my brothers who jumped off the boats to drown. Because they knew that death is better than bondage.” – Killmonger
This film carries deeper themes than the average Marvel film, which encouraged many people I know to watch it who might not otherwise choose to watch a superhero film. A thinking person’s action film? Probably not, but at least an action film with thoughtfulness.
Violence without bloodshed seems to be a Marvel trait, and whilst I’m not baying for blood by any means, it’s hardly honest, is it? In the same sense, we have kids in the ghetto who see a spaceship and say things like, “Oh wow, a Bugatti spaceship”. Maybe I’m cynical but I think I know the sort of language most school kids would use if they saw a spaceship whilst playing basketball with their mates: choice language.
In a sense, the soundtrack followed suit. There is a mixture of the ‘standard’ cinematic orchestral music, but it is mixed with urbaner sounding hip-hop/grime by Kendrick Lamar and friends. If you listen to the album, there are explicit lyrics in every track. But I didn’t notice any of this in the film. Again, I feel this is about authenticity – they had music produced specially by some great black artists and yet clipped some of what they had to say about the subject.
The Spotify link below contains explicit lyrics.
A final criticism is that I didn’t feel all that worried about the safety of the characters. It felt like everyone was invincible! Slapstick moments, such as blowing up a whole car, leaving just the driver skidding down the road in a chair, still holding the wheel, uninjured, actually undermine the integrity of the plot for the sake of a moment of humour.
It starts to feel more like watching a computer game being played than a film, particularly in two separate situations where they are driving a car and a fighter jet remotely – if the vehicles are destroyed then it really doesn’t matter – no chance of injury of fatalities. It’s like watching someone play on their PlayStation.
I think Black Panther is a film that has arrived at the right time, and hopefully, it will pave the future towards more thoughtful films in the genre that address questions that exist in the real world, and not just in a fictional universe.
Black Panther is a film with heart, culture and passion, let down in a couple of places by sub-par production. I’m looking forward to the next instalment of this superhero story!
PS please can someone have the balls to tell Stan Lee to stop doing his rubbish cameos – they are spoiling his films and they aren’t funny or clever. #rantover