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Double Take: Marvel/Disney’s ‘Black Panther’


Black Panther
Directed by:
Ryan Coogler
Starring: Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Daniel Kaluuya, Letitia Wright, and more

As the last Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) film before Avengers: Infinity War, Black Panther ends up being a pretty good movie that could have the same cultural impact and social progress for black people as Wonder Woman did for women and girls worldwide.

Directly following the events of Captain America: Civil War, T’Challa returns home to the technologically-advanced and isolationist African nation of Wakanda for his ascension to the throne and the warrior title of the Black Panther. However, Erik Killmonger, a Wakandan-American black-ops soldier and cousin to T’Challa, emerges and challenges his right to the throne, ultimately deposing him. With his family and close allies, T’Challa must fight back and reclaim the throne of Wakanda before Killmonger spreads war and chaos around the world.

On visual terms, Black Panther is impressively designed and beautifully envisioned, exemplifying the Afrofuturist aesthetic better than anyone might be able to for awhile, just as Blade Runner once did for the cyberpunk aesthetic. It integrates the influence of an uncolonized Pan-African identity and far-future technology, while preserving its traditions and cultures. Its action scenes, as per Marvel quotas, are visually imaginative and thrilling to watch, like a massive tribal war with war rhinos or Black Panther pulling off superhuman feats of strength.

Among the long list of bland and forgettable MCU villains, it becomes clear that Erik Killmonger (or N’Jadaka if you prefer) played by Michael B. Jordan is the real center of the story, as all of the film’s personal messages and themes are expressed through him. Black Panther takes its political and ethnic underpinnings to explore themes of race, revolution and “Africanness,”, particularly revealing in how Coogler saw himself in his upbringing in California. Marvel movies walk a fine line between believability and pure fantasy, and thankfully they show a certain awareness in showcasing hard themes of racism and radical revolution that makes Black Panther stand out.

Yet, as always, the usual wave of criticism returns, disparaging Black Panther and others as simply “Marvel movies” that do not try to innovate or revolutionize or be anything more complicated than a bombastic, high-budget Hollywood blockbuster. Yet, I would say: what’s wrong with that? The 1977 film Star Wars is not remembered for its narrative complexity or epic themes, it’s a swashbuckling sci-fi fantasy story with space wizards and moon-sized superweapons, and many consider it to be generation-defining. Similarly, I wouldn’t consider Wonder Woman to be one of the best films ever made since its plot is relatively predictable and clichéed, yet that did not stop millions of people from adoring and admiring the film for its phenomenal cultural impact.

Ultimately, Black Panther is yet another demonstration why the MCU has endured for nearly a decade and Marvel Studios under President Kevin Feige has achieved such critical and commercial success. Yes, it may be predictable, inoffensive, and well-worn popcorn entertainment, but it understands the action, the drama, the humour, and the characters into a well-oiled and well-tuned movie machine. Black Panther not only demonstrates its ability to look like a Black Panther comic panel, but feel like a Black Panther story that is relevant to his character and impresses its emotional impact upon the audience at large. And for that, Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther promises and delivers.

— by Nicholas Villeneuve

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