Black Panther (2018)

Black Panther (2018)

written by Ryan Coogler and Joe Robert Cole

based on the Black Panther comic books by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby

directed by Ryan Coogler

So even though I’ve been suffering from superhero exhaustion, I still decided to go ahead and catch up with the expanding Marvel Cinematic Universe. Guess I’m fickle, although I’d prefer unpredictable. Anyhow, my friends recommended I watch Black Panther, and they were right: This is one of the most unique comic book movies out there, an action-packed couple of hours that also manage to engage the mind with thought-provoking layers of subtext.

Black Panther takes us to the fictional country of Wakanda, an African nation that looks poverty-stricken from the outside but hides a rich, technologically-advanced kingdom underneath. T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) is the titular character, protector of the people and son of king T’Chaka (John Kani). After T’Chaka dies following the events of Captain America: Civil War (2016), T’Challa becomes the new ruler. But things get complicated when T’Challa’s long-lost cousin, N’Jadaka/Erik “Killmonger” Stevens (Michael B. Jordan), returns to Wakanda looking for revenge.

Ironically, the weakest point in Black Panther is Black Panther himself, a superhero that, while likable, comes off as a little bland. He’s upstaged at every turn, particularly by the three remarkable women that portray his aides and confidantes: Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o), an activist and spy; Okoye (Danai Guirra), the head warrior of the Wakandan special forces; and Shuri (Letitia Wright), T’Challa’s scientist sister. Smart, confident, and strong, they blow Wonder Woman out of the water.

Then there’s Killmonger, played by Jordan with just the right balance of self-assuredness and insecurity. It is indeed through him that Black Panther finds its beating heart. Killmonger blames Wakanda for turning a blind eye to the suffering of African descendants around the world: Stolen from their homeland, sold as slaves, and subjected to years of systemic poverty and discrimination. His plan is to claim the throne and use Wakanda’s resources to violently fight injustice, and even though he’s ultimately betrayed by his own ego, his anger is rooted in truth. Few blockbusters can get away with Killmonger’s final line: “Bury me in the ocean with my ancestors that jumped from the ships, because they knew death was better than bondage.” This is as daring as Marvel gets, and Jordan owns it.

With Black Panther, director Ryan Coogler has achieved the tricky task of not only bringing to life a comic book movie with a mostly black cast, he’s made a film that simultaneously celebrates Africa and empowers black culture everywhere in an era where prejudice continues to rear its ugly head… and damn if that’s not a bold undertaking. Wakanda forever!

Rating: ***

Carlos I. Cuevas