It’s frankly ridiculous that it has taken the people at Marvel a decade to realize that maybe not every movie that takes place in the MCU has to be about a straight white male hero. Any nonsensical questions of whether diversity in blockbuster entertainment is just liberal bullshit have been smashed by the deserved success of Black Panther. In the year of Infinity War, it’s telling that most Marvel fans and critics were more excited about the new direction in superhero media that Black Panther has mainstreamed. Sure, excitement for has reached fever pitch now for the team-up, but at the beginning of 2018 Black Panther was the only game in town.
With a couple of months gone by since the film premiered, it’s much easier to take Black Panther as just a piece of entertainment outwith the ways that it has redefined the superhero genre. Unsurprisingly, it’s still the best superhero movie since The Dark Knight. It achieves this with a very simple approach to T’Challa’s story, breathing new life into what a full origin story can do. It certainly helps that Black Panther was one of the best parts of Civil War, with T’Challa’s inclusion and motivation in the film handled much more smoothly than Spider-Man’s eye-catching cameo. The Avengers showed audiences how care and passion going into telling a story that was, at it’s heart, very simple can pay off, and this is exactly what Ryan Coogler did with Black Panther.
Thanks to his debut in Civil War, Coogler was spared the pressure of a full origin story, and while Chadwick Boseman owns the role, Coogler took this opportunity to explore the society of Wakanda as well as his lead character. As a direct result of this, Black Panther has the richest supporting cast and the most expansive cultural identity.
To show how well Coogler and his creative team achieve this is to compare Wakanda to another corner of the MCU that has been explored prior to this film’s release. The obvious example is Asgard. Asgard, at first glance, is a defined and detailed world, but what do we really know about Asgardian culture? In comparison to Wakanda, Asgard’s true identity is based on how decorated their warriors are. With Wakanda, Coogler introduces us to a society based on tradition, honour, and technology. Through the eyes of T’Challa, we are shown the importance of legacy, equality, and decency.
This leads me to the best aspect of the film: its wealth of well-defined and engaging female characters. If you’re like me, T’Challa was far from your favorite character in Black Panther. For me it was a tie between T’Challa’s bodyguard Okoye or his Q-like genius little sister Shuri. Both steal every scene they are in and have fans demanding solo films of their own, with solid reason
Ticking the Romance Box
Black Panther is the example of a superhero movie having its cake and eating it. T’Challa and Nakia certainly share romantic chemistry but both are far to busy with saving lives to ground the film to a stop in order to deal with it.
The Best Villain Corner
Killmonger is the MCU’s best villain. Anchored by a powerhouse performance by Michael B Jordan, Killmonger is the shadow version of T’Challa. He’s a warrior who has been denied his birthright by the actions of T’Challa’s father, denied the home and place within Wakanda. What’s most thrilling about Killmonger is that you can kind of see his point of view. He may be going about things in an all-or-nothing style, but he’s one of the few villains who actually change the hero’s perspective. His argument for Wakanda to share its technology (even if he wants to use this for nefarious purposes) strikes a nerve in T’Challa, leading to a break from past tradition to take its place beside the rest of the Marvel universe.
Black Panther doesn’t let its status as a gamechanger get in the way of telling a compelling and dramatic story, full of vibrant characters, and some pulse-pounding action. It’s a genuine treat to watch, with Ryan Coogler dived headfirst into every possibility a film like Black Panther allowed by creating a rich, full culture, using the villain to challenge and change the ideals of the hero, and proving that diversity has a place in blockbuster filmmaking. Infinity War has a lot to live up to.
We’ll be covering Infinity War with both a straight review and an entry into this retrospective in the next week, so stay tuned!
That’s us for the Marvel Cinematic Universe retrospective! Thanks for reading, and if you enjoyed these articles please check out the rest of our MCU retrospective, and consider supporting us on Patreon!
By Kevin Boyle
(header image courtesy of Marvel)