Panther successfully claws its way on screen
Much has already been written about what a game changer Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther is – not simply where superhero movies are concerned, but Hollywood films in general. A celebration of African culture, featuring a cast that consists of almost entirely African-American actors, this is the sort of production the film community has been inching towards for decades.
However, as groundbreaking as the movie is in terms of setting, background and characters, it’s something of a rote exercise where the Marvel Studios’ product is concerned. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as the company hasn’t made a misstep during its 10-year run of successful box office superhero epics. And while Panther is a good film, narratively it’s not as progressive as one would have hoped, what with the anticipation surrounding the character’s big-screen debut.
The film picks up after the events of Captain America: Civil War, which featured the assassination of King T’Chaka (John Kani) of Wakanda. Due to his untimely death, his son T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) must lead this nation that’s purposely remained hidden from the rest of the world. This was due to the country’s reserve of the metal Vibranium, the source of which was a meteor that landed there thousands of years ago. Stronger than any other metal, the element has other properties that are used to facilitate groundbreaking technology as well as give powers to those who take the role of the Black Panther, the King of Wakanda.
As with most origin tales, the film has to take its time dispensing with all of this background information, and, as interesting as it is, it prevents the movie from getting up to speed as it should. However, the main conflict is a masterstroke, as T’Challa’s claim to the throne is challenged by his unknown cousin Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan), an angry young man raised in the United States who, along with arms dealer Ulysses Claue (Andy Serkis), intends to distribute Wakanda’s high tech weapons to oppressed people of color around the world, in order to foster international revolution.
While the action sequences rely far too heavily on computer-generated effects, they are exciting once T’Challa’s pursuit of his usurper begins. However, the most interesting aspect of the film is the juxtaposition of the two young men. While T’Challa has been raised to seek a peaceful resolution to problems, Killmonger’s distinctly American upbringing prompts him to use violence as his first response to every difficulty, a greedy man who uses an altruistic cause as a cover for his self-serving actions. This serves as a broadside aimed at American foreign policy, something examined even further when Wakanda’s stance of isolationism is put under the microscope. If there’s a subtext to the film, it’s that of globalization and the effects it has on relations, both foreign and domestic.
That’s the thing you can’t help but admire about the Marvel films – they aim high where their characters and situations are concerned, using them as metaphors for real-world concerns. This is more obvious in some entries than others, but it’s indicative of the studio’s attempt to give their movies emotional and social weight. Black Panther provides this against its rote origin story and in doing so, gives us a hero we can relate to, as T’Chilla tries to help those in a world he doesn’t understand, struggling to keep his conscience clean as he goes. This sort of conflict makes for intriguing possibilities where the character’s future appearances are concerned.
Contact Chuck Koplinski at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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