With all the online hype surrounding Marvel’s Black Panther (an extremely fashionable red carpet premiere, a Kendrick Lamar music video drop, and a cast of very amazing African American actors), it’s easy to dismiss the flick as just another solo superhero movie outing that’s about to rake in a dope amount of cash. You’d be an idiot for doing so, because it’s already slated for box-office gold, and the film is so much more than just a popcorn piece. It’s a solid addition not only to the canon of Marvel Studios, but to the history of black cinema as a whole, proving that when great minds with a unified voice come together, barriers can be broken. It has something to say and it’s not afraid to make itself heard.
After the death of his father T’Chaka during a bombing at the Vienna International Centre, T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) inherits the title of Wakandan King and Black Panther. The African nation of Wakanda is a technologically advanced super-country powered by Vibranium, the same meteoric metal used for Captain America’s shield. In order to protect their peace and Vibranium wealth from the cruelties of the outside world, the Wakandan people pretend to be impoverished, hiding in plain sight. But when international terrorist Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis) teams up with the mysterious mercenary Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan), the sanctuary Wakanda has worked so hard to build is suddenly put at risk.
Black Panther fuses the tribal sensibilities of Wakandan lore with a science-fiction setting. This duality imbues the movie with a colorful palette, allowing the filmmakers to mold a fun world that stands out among its contemporaries. The costumes, props, and set design are so textured and inspired, giving the eye a lot to take in and cherish. On the other hand, the action sequences are impeccable, although sometimes a bit dizzying because of the ultra-kinetic camerawork.
One of the greatest parts of this future classic, however, is the strength of its ensemble. Director Ryan Coogler has corralled an impressive group of talented, scene-stealing individuals with great timing, physicality, and magnetism. Boseman has that quiet, Denzel-like confidence that speaks volumes even when his character isn’t uttering a word. He embodies royalty, his demeanor switching from political to heroic depending on the given situation. It’s a stark contrast compared to the film’s antagonist in Jordan, who has worked as Coogler’s muse on both Fruitvale Station and Creed. His is a presence that’s imposing, filling the screen with his huge build and palpable anger. Boseman and Jordan are an exciting clash to witness because they’re two sides of the same coin.
But it’s the Wakandan women—intelligent, fierce, and courageous at their core—who often outshine the men they’re fighting next to. Lupita Nyong’o’s Nakia is simultaneously seductive and cunning, a spy with a warm heart ready to die for her country. Then there’s Okoye (played magnificently by The Walking Dead’s Danai Gurira), general of the Dora Milaje, a circle of female warriors tasked to safeguard the kingdom. She melds the character’s brute nature with a sincere vulnerability that elevates the supporting role into one that’s integral. Letitia Wright, who plays T’Challa’s little sister Shuri, gives the token scientific genius a fresh twist—bright and hilarious in all the right moments. Together, these ladies could probably hold a blockbuster of their own.
Perhaps it’s this inherent generosity among peers that allows the movie to breathe. No one, not even Boseman in the titular role, seems to be pining for superstardom. It’s evident that this is a collaboration. And the film is as much a vehicle for Coogler as it is for his actors. Like directors Spike Lee, John Singleton, and Antoine Fuqua before him, he is slowly building a filmography that matters to the black experience, using the aspects of their culture to weave epic tales that transcend age, gender, and nationality. Because if there’s a lesson to be learned from Black Panther, it’s that apathy is the enemy and we should recognize our similarities more than our differences.