Illustration courtesy of Marvel/Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures/Everett

Black Panther: A Cinematic Marvel

Black Panther is the newest crown jewel of the Marvel cinematic universe, and rightly so. Infused with socio political commentary, this superhero story marks a revolution for Hollywood blockbusters.

Feb 17, 2018

4.5/5 Stars
Can a film that is socially relevant and culturally inclusive be commercially successful? As the first major superhero film with an African protagonist, the first with a majority black cast and the first to employ a black writer and director, Black Panther put the question of commerciality to the test — and it suceeded. Black Panther is rightly the newest crown jewel of the Marvel cinematic universe.
Infused with socio-political commentary, this superhero story marks a revolution for Hollywood blockbusters. With all of the hype surrounding Black Panther, the stakes for Marvel were high. The film had to meet the hopes of black fans around the world by demonstrating that movies made by and starring people of color can win at the box office.
Simply put, Black Panther achieved its mission boldly and powerfully.
The film is set in a fictional country called Wakanda, located on the African continent. Although perceived as a developing country, Wakanda is actually extremely technologically advanced, though it keeps its vibranium resources a secret from the rest of the world. The story unfolds as T’Challa, Prince of Wakanda, played by Chadwick Boseman, assumes the throne and the mantle of the Black Panther, the heroic Wakandan protector, after his father's death. T’Challa faces several challenges to his sovereignty, one of which is an unexpected rival who wants to use Wakanda’s vibranium to export weapons in order to arm oppressed black people around the world.
The conflict is highly nuanced, hinging on questions of what Africans and African Americans should do to fight subjugation. Black Panther focuses on complex issues of race and power. The plot also explores themes of Pan-Africanism and what should be done to help Africa as a whole. This plot point is advanced through the idea of Wakanda emerging from isolationism and aiding other countries. This aid, however, is not through military intervention, but through education and other means of non-violent empowerment.
As for the characters, the villain Erik Killmonger, played by Michael B. Jordan, is a tragic victim turned perpetrator of oppression and he completely steals the show. While Boseman’s portrayal of the protagonist does not quite match Jordan in on-screen presence and charisma, his treatment of T’Challa’s struggle to become a just king is endearing and sincere. The sibling relationship is fresh between T’Challa and his genius sister, Shuri, played by Letitia Wright. Meanwhile, the relationship between him and Nakia, his love interest and Wakandan spy, played by Lupita Nyong’o, is both tense and mutually supportive. Okoye, the elite Wakandan army general, played by Danai Gurira, also helps to hold the film together. Seeing female characters defined by more than their appearances and relationships with the male protagonist is an unexpected but welcome delight. Shuri’s Stark-like aptitude for invention, Nakia’s fiery grit and Okoye’s integrity and bravery are examples of the female characters' great personalities.
Black Panther impressively steers clear from reading solely as severe and sombre. The film offsets its weighty themes with all the action, wit and visual spectacle you crave from a Marvel movie. The stunning fight choreography for the spear-wielding Dora Milajae, a Wakandan elite female fighting force, rivals the Amazonites in Wonder Woman.
The quips in the script, particularly in regards to identity politics, are so unexpectedly funny that you can't help bursting out in not-quite-politically-correct laughter. Case in point, when Shuri greets CIA agent Everett K Ross played by Martin Freeman, with a dry, "Hello, colonizer,” or when well-meaning Ross asks, "Does she speak English?" referring to Okoye, and she coldly replies, "When I want to.”
As for the film’s aesthetic, you can already plan for repeat viewings just to glimpse the glittering vibranium skyscrapers of Wakanda, a beautiful CGI rendition of afrofuturism. With car chases, gadgets galore, fisticuffs in shady bars, hovering jet-planes and a killer soundtrack, Black Panther epitomizes the superhero genre. It also pushes the genre further, charging up the moralizing impulses of superhero stories to pack a punch right in the gut of modern-day anxieties, particularly American ones, about race.
Overall, there are real politics driving Black Panther. That the movie's title is a direct callback to one of the most iconic black rights organizations of the U.S. civil rights movement, the militant Black Panthers, is no mistake. The voices of Martin Luther King and Malcolm X seem to reverberate in T’Challa’s and Killmonger’s verbal sparring. In another memorable scene, Killmonger makes the chilling declaration that, “the sun will never set on the Wakandan empire,” eerily echoing British imperialism.
This is not the Marvel you thought you knew, which played it safe on time-tested Marvel cinematic universe formulae. This is a Marvel that dares to gamble on a film sure to stir up new discussions on black identity, the politics of intervention and ways to grapple with the terrible legacies of colonization and slavery.
Black Panther is the new King of Marvel and the revolution is long overdue. In every respect, the film is smart storytelling at Marvel’s finest. In a Hollywood industry still dominated by white stories and characters — just recall the cringe-worthy Oscar mix-up between Moonlight and La La Land — Black Panther is iconic, groundbreaking and thrilling.
Kaashif Hajee is Deputy News Editor and Jamie Uy is a staff writer. Email them at
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