I was shocked after seeing Black Panther. So shocked I didn’t know how to write down what I had seen. I saw the film on Saturday evening and only now can I even begin to collect my thoughts on the film.
As I begin I would like to say that there are two sides to this review (which may contain SPOILERS). There is the Marvel ‘fan’ that has watched every film within the Marvel Cinematic Universe and have watched as we slowly built from Iron Man all the way to Black Panther and Avengers: Infinity Wars later this year. But there is also another side, the side that wrote dissertations on the portrayal of African descendants in American and British films, the side who counts Malcolm X as his hero, the side that was shocked.
Let’s start with the Marvel fan inside me and what he thought of Black Panther? How does it sit against the better Marvel films like Winter Soldier, Guardians of the Galaxy, Doctor Strange or Ragnarok? Well, it was a great Marvel film and I recommend seeing it, but it definitely wasn’t the highest on the list of Marvel films and there were a few reasons for that. Again there may be SPOILERS ahead.
The hardest thing to swallow as a Marvel fan is we know T’Challa doesn’t die, we have seen him alive and well in the Avengers: Infinity War trailer. He’s running around, fighting Thanos’ warriors, getting “this man a shield”. Now, this is an issue for a lot of Marvel films, but in Black Panther, it seems a lot more apparent as the battles he faces are life and death from the very start of the film. When Iron Man, Captain America, Thor have been in fights, we know the consequences are unlikely to be fatal but there are other things at risk. For Black Panther, the majority of consequences is the life or death of T’Challa, and we know he doesn’t die. Even a significant part of the film is based on him being supposed dead, but, again, we know he doesn’t die.
At this progressed stage of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, characters rarely go solo and it was noticeably strange not to have a major cameo or starring role from another major hero, villain or infinity stone that would feed further into the main story arch. We know both Bucky and Captain America are close-by but do not get involved and their absence from the film is felt as they seem to just avoid rather than cleverly explain why they stay absent.
Also unlike Dr Strange that was a solo outing (an infinity stone played a large part in Dr Strange), it wasn’t an origin film, we didn’t see someone learning their powers, T’Challa was fully in control of Black Panther. As a Marvel film, it felt we didn’t learn enough about Black Panther as a character as from the very start he was quickly thrust into battle with a limited transition from Captain America: Civil War. Although the learnings of T’Challa come from another place through Killmonger and the history of his father, it was not the learnings you expect from a Marvel / comic book film.
This was, of course, another good addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe and it now feels into Phase 3, Marvel has found their rhythm. They may make films that aren’t great, but they will longer make anything that could be classed as some of the worst films ever (Captain America: First Avenger) but it wasn’t the best one. It lacked some of the grander action scenes, the suspense and feeling that there was anything truly at risk and in ways self-contained as a stand-alone rather than the bigger Marvel Cinematic Universe.
So what about the side that was shocked, what did he think? He thought Black Panther was simply groundbreaking. In truth, I am slightly unsure how this film made it to general release. It must have been hidden from the heads at Disney and Marvel Studio? Perhaps they played a different film at the pre-release screenings? How did they do it? Black Panther, in short, is a showcase of African talent from “the root to the fruit”, though not only that it showcases on the mainstream the issues that African descendants have faced for centuries. I’m still shocked.
Although Wakanda is a fictional nation of African riches and revolutionary technology, hidden from the world in the fear it would be robbed of its’ resources. Black Panther did not hide for one second from the fact that the fictional nation is a very real metaphor for the history of Africa. This film plays as an education to the mainstream audiences of Marvel films of the hidden, ignored and long forgotten history of Africa, showcasing, to the extreme the effect it has had upon its’ descendants.
Those effects are seen through the eyes of the film’s protagonist, Killmonger, which creates one of the best, if not the best villain that Marvel has seen to date. With a character that has been misguided through his treatment outside the walls of Wakanda and the realities that people of colour face across the World. His heart has grown cold, full of hatred for the World and the African nation that turned it’s back on him. From the start to the end Killmonger presents the heartbreaking realities of the realities of African descendants. His first scene in the museum asking how the artefacts were secured, to his final words and choosing death over bondage. Though as he justifies his motives throughout the film, it becomes clearer to T’Challa there must be a position between radical action and in-action.
At times the positioning of Killmonger and even those close to T’Challa question his in action and the realities that there are those across the World that could benefit from the resources of Wakanda. This is placed amongst the guise of using the resource of vibranium, but If you look past the Marvel fiction. The nation still represented a sense of community, knowledge of self and understanding of history that African descendants have sorely lacked throughout the ages. If there is anything that can be taken from the film it is for those who need to see this understanding, that knowledge of what has gone does not make anyone weaker, it makes you stronger to face the future together. T’Challa himself learns of a hidden past of his Father, who protected Wakanda through extreme action and in-action, but the knowledge of this makes him stronger. T’Challa starts the film solely focused on being the protector of Wakanda (his motives in Civil War were close to home as well) it is through seeing the World in Killmonger’s eyes, he is able to see that there must be a positive action.
I could go on for days about how Black Panther subverts the traditional thinking of what a mainstream film should be and agree with the writer who described it as a “love letter to people of African descent”. Black Panther gives everyone the knowledge that people of colour can hold mainstream films on their own, both in-front of and behind the camera. As it continues to break box office records, it becomes a turning point in film and television history led fearlessly by a Black Panther into a new era of film-making.
If you haven’t seen Black Panther yet, go see it, you won’t be disappointed as a fan of Marvel, as an African descendant or as a human being. Wakanda Forever!