by Charles Kirkland Jr.
Marvel sets the bar higher than ever before with the first African-American superhero.
The Civil War is over. King T’Chaka is dead and his son, T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman), the Black Panther, is preparing to become the new king of Wakanda. He finds his ex, Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o) and brings her back to Wakanda to watch as he accepts the challenge ceremony for the crown. However, T’Challa quickly finds that the challenge of being king is determining the direction and fate of the country.
Wakanda is a technological wonderland due to a meteor of Vibranium which crashed onto the land thousands of years earlier. Wakanda is the only source in the world for the precious metal. In fact, any vibranium found anywhere in the world is a precious, sought-after commodity. A fact that Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis) knows all too well. When he and Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) steal a vibranium artifact from a museum, their actions alert the Dora Milaje, the all-female royal Wakandan guard, and their leader Okoye (Danai Gurira) who join the Black Panther who must retrieve the metal. Little do any of them know but all of this is as designed by Killmonger to bring about an unexpected life and death struggle for the fate of Wakanda and ultimately the world.
In July 1966, Black Panther, the comic, was created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. It was groundbreaking because the creation was the first African-American superhero ever seen. Where both Blade (Wesley Snipes) and Spawn (Michael Jai White) were movies featuring what many consider to be “anti-heroes”, Black Panther is the first movie to focus on an African-American superhero. Interestingly enough the comic superhero made his debut four months prior to the origination of the Black Panther Party and was a source of pride and inspiration for numerous children of color during the time.
Director Ryan Coogler (Creed, Fruitvale Station) is on top of his game in the creation of this film. The 31-year old director from Oakland, CA has created a visual and visceral action masterpiece that has a solidly Black consciousness and deep socio-political roots. The action scenes of the film are breathtakingly outstanding yet the story does not stray from the comics with addresses themes of power, responsibility, and community. Thanks to the inspiration of the recent comic book series penned by the novelist Ta-Nehisi Coates as a source, T’Challa struggles with balancing the responsibility of the king toward the interests of his country and a superpower nation towards the world.
There are a couple of times in the unfolding of the themes in the movie where it seems a clear commentary on the world in which we live today is being delivered. In an end credit scene (there are two), when T’Challa addresses the United Nations and states that it is a great country’s responsibility “to build bridges not borders” it is impossible to miss the inference and the movie almost feels like it breaks the fourth wall and takes a shot at the current administration.
Quite simply, Black Panther is one of the most comprehensively created movies of all time. Every facet of the film has been met with intention and design for greatness. The beautiful costumes were created by two-time Academy Award nominee, Ruth E. Carter (Amistad, Malcolm X). The film score was composed by Ludwig Göransson who worked with Director Coogler previously on Creed and Fruitvale Station, with assistance from award-winning rapper Kendrick Lamar. The story was written by Ryan Coogler and Joe Robert Cole but drew heavily from its many comic book sources including Howard alum, Coates.
The movie is titled Black Panther and as such the movie focuses on Chadwick Boseman in the titular role but Michael B. Jordan is incredibly intense as the usurper Killmonger. A villain of this level of gravitas has not been seen since Heath Ledger’s Joker or even Darth Vader. Erik Killmonger is a well fleshed out character that you understand and fall for sympathetically but for whom you absolutely cannot support. Jordan turns in another superb performance in his third film with Coogler. Coogler shows his skill in keeping Jordan’s work equally balanced in charisma and strength with Boseman. When the two face off, we witness true superpowers collide.
Rated PG-13 for prolonged sequences of action violence, and a brief rude gesture, Black Panther is a beautiful and glorious celebration of the potential of the African experience. Its beauty is overwhelming. Its commentary is deafening. It has been a long time coming.