Movie review: Black Panther

Since Black Panther’s inclusion in Captain America: Civil War, comic book fans have been eagerly awaiting T’Challa’s stand-alone movie. Black Panther is a character with a huge cult following – a unique superhero, who stands apart from the standard Marvel fare. But the film has had a troubled history; dwelling in development hell since as early as 1992, when Wesley Snipes attempted to bring the character to the big screen.

In terms of the wider Marvel Cinematic Universe, Black Panther takes place shortly after the events of Captain America: Civil War. When his father T’Chaka is killed during a terrorist attack, T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) assumes the throne of Wakanda. Along with the responsibilities of state, T’Challa becomes the Black Panther: protector of Wakanda. T’Challa successfully tracks down an enemy of the state – the delightfully-titled Ulyses Klaue – and sets in motion a plan to bring him back. However, Klaue is but a pawn in a wider game; and the appearance of the mysterious “Killmonger” threatens to destabilise Wakanda’s long-established policy of non-intervention in global affairs…

Black Panther is a bold, powerful and well-executed movie. It has real vigour, and it is highly successful on many levels. The race element is obvious, and I couldn’t review the film without mentioning this. Panther presents so many powerful, developed characters – from T’Challa, to his sister Shuri (Letitia Wright), to the brutally-effective Oyoke (Danai Gurira). It presents both strong black role models, and strong black cultures. Wakanda itself is a nuanced, developed nation-state; painfully under-estimated by much of the Western world. It has spies across the planet, capitalising on the narrow-mindedness of other nations in their assessment. As Killmonger’s manic scheme for world domination takes root, this latter aspect is a key part of the plot.

Perhaps even more than the race theme running through Black Panther, though, it was the gender themes that struck me. The most bad-ass operator in the whole film actually isn’t T’Challa, but rather Oyoke. Many will know Gurira as The Walking Dead’s Michone, and she positively steals every scene in which she appears. The female characters are strong, intelligent, and they act on their own initiative; I wonder whether this is really where Panther breaks new ground. But the casting is highly effective overall, and every character feels well-appointed.

The film’s only limitations are the fact that it is a Marvel film, in that it adheres quite tightly to the MCU script. This is now the eighteenth movie in what is a varied, but also an increasingly formulaic, series. Black Panther doesn’t break the mould in terms of plot, but it does the Marvel thing pretty well. This is a minor criticism, I suppose – if it is a criticism at all – because mostly, you know what you’re getting with an MCU superhero film. Panther doesn’t disappoint in that respect; the action is thick and fast, the effects very polished. But it knows its limits in terms of plot, and it fits within the type very well.

Black Panther isn’t about the plot though, and it clearly breaks new ground in other areas. In terms of race and gender, Panther is going to be a film well-remembered, and for good reason.

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