There aren’t too many films that ask you to think about everything you just saw. “Black Panther” manages to not only have you thinking about what happened immediately after the movie, it asks you to think for days on end. It builds a myth in Wakanda and makes it feel real, with discussions of race, identity, coming of age and more rolled all into one. Saying that the film is a triumph and sweeping victory for Marvel and director Ryan Coogler would be shortchanging it.
The layered politics and world of Wakanda are on full display from the opening scene where the idea and radical history of Oakland, California reverberates just as bold as the prideful tones of Wakanda. It’s an Eden, a paradise where the most beautiful sunset is incomparable, and the lands are a mixture of perfect greens and blues. Wakanda is a place in spirit and in the world of “Black Panther,” it dares ask the question of why black seclusion felt far more potent than inclusion.
Created in 1966 by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, Black Panther is the latest Marvel hero to get his own just due in a feature film. When fans complained about the lack of white characters in the original comics, Kirby came up with an arc where Black Panther beat up the Klan. Fans were teased for a brief, yet memorable appearance in 2016’s “Captain America: Civil War,” setting off a two-year period of anticipation. Cast announcements, a director change from Ava Duvernay to Coogler, it felt like a massive, culturally altering moment was set to happen. To wit, it may become the most significant blockbuster of 2018, a game-changer for Marvel and for audiences all over. All moviegoers had to go was get there.
With Coolger at the helm, “Black Panther” not only feels like a superhero movie but a much more personal love letter to growing up, to learn how a boy must become a man without his father and more. His previous work, 2015’s “Creed” planted similar seeds with Michael B. Jordan’s “Adonis Creed.” Here, Jordan is the villain, Erik Killmonger. The best villains are those rooted in conviction and justification. Jordan delivers in spades as another young black man, attempting to find his way after he’s all but considered forgotten.
The difference between him and T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) is that they’re on different paths in regards to the goals they want to accomplish. Boseman’s Black Panther is regal and in the heat of battle, a full-on hero flanked by equally hard-hitting, show-stealing lieutenants. From Angela Bassett to sharp and dazzling Lupita Nyong’o, the women are not two-dimensional roles, they’re fully fleshed out. The Royal Guard, the Dora Milaje, is composed of all-women with a hard-nosed general (Danai Gurira) that puts country over party. The lead scientist in Wakanda, T’Challa’s sister Shuri (played by Letitia Wright) is a Black woman, who schools everyone on the technology with fun quips and puns. All of the players matter here, especially the Black identity politics that live and breathe through Wakanda. Even in a mythical Eden, separation of tribes exists as clear as day.
The outside world plays Wakanda as some “third world country – textiles, shepherds, cool outfits.” Internally, it is a land of technological wonder, one that can appeal both to comic fans and newcomers. For those who’ve been thinking about it since the debut edition where Black Panther beat up on the entire Fantastic Four and then invited them over to dinner. For newbies who only know of Black Panther as the wealthiest man in either the Marvel or DC Comic universes. The country’s primary resource mentioned throughout the film is vibranium, but in reality, the people who make up the various tribes and citizens are the most accurate resource.
In “Black Panther,” the story of race and identity is interwoven into a larger arc, one that takes on black life in general. Black creation, imagination, and liberation are emphasized throughout the movie, making it a film not just of hope but one of wonder, where the fabric of Blackness stands out as more than an emblem or symbol. But a reality.