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T’Challa( portrayed by Chadwick Boseman) is the main protagonist of his first solo feature film, but it is not so much a story about the newly anointed King of his African hermit nation. It is rather a story about the mantle itself, the throne and all that comes with such power and its use. For a good portion of the film, that mantle is challenged by one of the MCU’s few great villains, Erik Killmonger (Micheal B. Jordan), a man who brings an understandable but still radical and destructive vision of Wakanda’s power. It is an old yet relevant tale of what anyone, white or black, male or female, does with power and how that power’s use must evolve with the passing of time.
T’Challa, having brought to justice the man who killed his Father and prior King/Black Panther in Captain America: Civil War, is now next in line of succession. He doesn’t believe he is ready, emotionally and politically, for the role of taking his people into the uncertain horizon. He has many friends and family still in his home to guide him. His mother,Ramonda( Angela Bassett), sister and tech master, Shuri (Letitia Wright), bodyguard and general, Okoye (Walking Dead’s Danai Guirra), spy and former girlfriend, Nakia (Lupita N’yongo), border guard and childhood friend, W’Kabi, (Get Out’s Daniel Kaluuya) and spiritual advisor Zuri, (Forest Whitaker). All these friends and yet it still seems too much. He would much rather just be the warrior in the job description than the rest that comes with the title.
Black Panther challenges the ethics of Wakanda despite its thousands of years of isolation successfully making them, along with their exclusive source of the alien mineral vibranium, the world’s most advanced nation. A balancing act of humility and arrogance that is as hard for our hero to confront as the mirror image he faces in Killmonger. It is best to keep what exactly Killmonger desires under wraps until one has seen the movie, as the antagonist’s journey nearly trumps the protagonist’s.
The performances are all outstanding, making this new slice of Marvel’s cinematic universe feel convincing yet fantastical, as is the core ingredient of the studio’s success. Boseman, Jordan, Wright and Guirra, as critics had suggested earlier, are the stars of the show and are the most enjoyable to witness onscreen, though Andy Serkis’s Afrikaner mercenary Ulysses Klaue, first seen in Age of Ultron, and a long running Black Panther foe in the comics, is delightfully silly in how he so happily goes off the deep end in comparison to everyone else’s relative stoicism.
The expected action sequences, are quite good with a chase in Busan, South Korea and an epic melee on Wakanda’s vibranium mound at the end, evoking the warg battle from The Two Towers. You’ll know what I mean by that when it arrives.
What makes Black Panther so successful, in spite of being Marvel’s eighteenth film thus far, is how it takes a scenario and cultural aesthetics, ranging from its soundtrack, gloriously traditional African with a subtle mix of instrumental hip-hop, to the visual color that represents the continent’s style, makes all of that work without feeling insensitive. Ryan Coogler (Fruitvale Station, Creed) goes all the way with the style and never looks back out of fear of stepping on the eggshells.
It’s a new look for not just Marvel but the blockbuster. It tackles the touchy themes of race, historical bigotry and the cycle of violence that comes from retribution from centuries of unfortunate abuse. Racism and/or cultural division and uncertainty, from both sides of the aisle, are the true enemy of the movie, and it doesn’t pull half measures in its exploration, nor does it wham you with it like an anvil. It’s the sweet spot that all good films of this caliber Coogler has targeted and he has also made it a good superhero adventure for all to enjoy. Long live days of the King, may they be blessed.
Originally posted 2018-02-18 18:07:56.