Black Panther Review – Ryan Coogler succeeds with Afrofuturism

Black Panther movie

Black Panther Review

Finally fans of Black Panther get the movie they always wanted. Personally I knew little about the character before his introduction into the MCU with Captain America Civil War. However, just like with Spider-Man it was a hugely successful introduction. Chadwick Boseman played the role of Crown Prince T’Challa (and then King) with charm, depth and elusiveness that endeared. Black Panther tells the story of what happened after the events of Civil War, after the death of T’Challa’s father – T’Chaka – at the hands of Helmut Zemo. Wakanda has been referenced before – notably in Age of Ultron as the source of the incredibly strong metal Vibranium. Age of Ultron also introduced us to villain Ulysses Klaue (played by Andy Serkis) who specializes in stealing Vibranium. Each of these story threads is brought together and furthered in Black Panther.

The Story

Black Panther starts off with what I think is a reference to Hamlet. In 1992 T’Chaka seeks out his brother Prince N’Jobu in L.A. N’Jobu arranged for the theft of Vibranium in order to use it to ferment war against those that would oppress Africans. T’Chaka sees this as a betrayal of Wakandan ideals and orders his brother home to stand trial. An argument ends with T’Chaka killing his brother after he attempts to kill Zuri – a undercover agent. N’Jobu’s son Erik is left behind in L.A. as a cover for the lie that N’Jobu had disappeared. At any moment the viewer has the feeling past events will threaten T’Challa and his family. And T’Challa’s road to the throne is wrought with danger. The fallout of the events in L.A. has repercussion throughout the movie.

At the crowning of T’Challa he takes a potion that removes his ‘Black Panther’ powers. A challenger from one of the five tribes can then fight T’Challa for the throne. The rules are simple, the defeated can yield – or be killed. Black Panther is full of misdirection and this challenge is one of them. The viewer expects the elusive fifth tribe to show up – and its champion to defeat T’Challa. The rest of the movie would be about the ‘would-be-king’ as he attempts to take back the throne. Well, the fifth tribe do show up, but the challenger is defeated.

The outside world

Instead, it is truly the outside world that are the thread – in the form of Klaue and N’Jobu’s son Erik. The latter has become a trained killer and gifted intelligence operative. T’Challa must also deal with Everett Ross if he wants to arrest Klaue, but as the world knows little about the reclusive Wakanda he does not have much to bargain with. In effect T’Chaka not only abandoned Erik he also prevented Wakandan’s from interfering in the affairs of the world. This turn of events is used a leit-motif for the dysfunctional family of T’Challa – between those that favour interference (Erik and W’Kabi) and non-intervention (T’Chaka). In essence Black Panther is a heroes journey as T’Challa learns about the events that took place in 1992 and must make his own choices.

Lots of women

One of the best things about Black Panther besides its story are the characters. T’Challa has friends, family and colleagues he all must deal with. From his sister Shuri, to his love-interest and sometime secret agent Nakia. Black Panther does not stop with the strong female characters as T’Challa also has an all female bodyguard – the Dora Milaje. They are led by Okoye who happens to be the love-interest of W’Kabi. All of these characters get to pull of their sleeves and in a truly marvelous mix of fighting scenarios and traditional dancing – all while wearing brightly coloured garments. Black Panther still finds the moments to have a sense of humor as well – often directed at T’Challa.

Suspense of disbelief

Black Panther thus sports a strong story, with strong characters. The special effects are impressive too, but here I do want to point out a flaw. The futuristic world of Wakanda does not sit with me well. The story may have explained how the Wakanda’s developed it through the use if Vibranium over thousands of years. Yet, I believe it partly ruins the suspense of disbelief. I think the futurism should have been toned down. Fewer Maglev trains, deep chasms and holographic projectors would have made the story more believable. T’Challa’s sister Shuri runs laboratory researching Vibranium. I think showing just that would have communicated Wakanda’s technological advantage better.

Conclusion

Overall I really enjoyed Black Panther. I liked how it successfully addresses events from Civil War – a superb movie in its own right. I have tried to make this review as spoiler-free as possible with just some general plot points. At over 2 hours and 15 minutes the movie is quite long, so there are plenty of details to pick at in the future. As for Wakanda, we shall see it return soon enough with the first Infinity War movie – set for April 25th. A post-credit scene also shows The Winter Soldier will awaken form his slumber. I hope to see more of director Ryan Coogler – his command of Black Panther was excellent.

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