Black Panther sets a new standard for superhero genre

Black Panther movie poster reflects the complexity of  the hit film.

Photo Courtesy of Creative Commons.

Black Panther movie poster reflects the complexity of the hit film.

By Jake Herman, News Editor

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With stellar acting, a thoughtful script and excellent visuals, “Black Panther” puts a unique spin on a superhero movie and is executed to near-perfection.

 

Directed and written by Ryan Coogler, Marvel Studios’ “Black Panther” is one of the best installments of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). Fans may remember briefly meeting the main character, then-prince T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman), in “Captain America: Civil War” (2016). This movie picks up where “Civil War” left off.

 

Tradition has it that in Wakanda, the ruler of the people assumes the power of the Black Panther. Fueled by vibranium, the same rare metal that powers Wakanda’s groundbreaking science and innovation, the Black Panther has heightened reflexes, super speed and agility, and the ability to harness and store kinetic energy. He uses these powers to protect the secretive and powerful Wakandan society.

 

T’Challa must grow into his role as Wakanda’s king and protector after his father’s death in “Civil War.” By introducing a slew of T’Challa’s allies and enemies in rapid succession, audiences immediately grasp the stakes and circumstances surrounding the Black Panther.

 

This film has one of the deepest casts of talented black actors and actresses in the history of Hollywood. A few of many standout characters include spy Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o) and warrior Okoye (Danai Gurira), whose wit and passion show viewers why T’Challa trusts them with his life. T’Challa’s tech-savvy sister Shuri (Letitia Wright) and neighboring tribal leader M’Baku (Winston Duke) are also highlights as they inject leadership, humor and big personalities into their scenes.

 

“Black Panther” tells a story on a much smaller scale than typical superhero movies. At no point is there a world that needs saving or a cliche magical object that almost falls into the wrong hands. The intimacy of the story is refreshing as viewers get to know the newly introduced characters and setting without a sense of urgency or stress over it all being destroyed within a runtime of just over two hours. Rather, the viewers can focus on the conflicts brought up by the movie’s complex plot and rich character development.

 

Much of this conflict is driven by Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan), who is T’Challa’s main adversary due to a past betrayal by the Wakandan royal family. Jordan’s performance truly steals the show at times. It is rare to see an antagonist whose intentions are so noble and believable as to garner some sympathy from viewers, but I certainly felt compelled to root for Killmonger up to a certain point.

 

Killmonger seeks to usurp the throne and powers of the Black Panther from T’Challa, who he views as weak both physically and politically. If Killmonger had his way, Wakandans would use their technology and army to become a dominant world power. While Killmonger is power-hungry and ruthless, his actions are rooted in the belief that powerful Wakandan technology could help oppressed minorities all over the world, but is being wasted as Wakanda maintains isolation.

 

T’Challa and Killmonger’s sophisticated contrast of ideals and leadership style eventually comes to a head in a satisfying battle that forces the prideful and fierce people of Wakanda to pick sides.

 

Up until this CGI-filled final battle (which is about the only aspect of this film that meets the cliches of its genre), the action scenes in “Black Panther” are visually stunning and charged with emotion.

 

A standout among these scenes is one in which T’Challa has to defend his throne through a ceremony at a waterfall’s edge. This beautifully-shot scene features a memorable, albeit small role for Wakandan elder Zuri (Forest Whitaker) and some epic hand-to-hand combat. In this scene, viewers see a vulnerable and raw T’Challa, as the ritual requires him to relinquish the powers of the Black Panther and fight as a mere mortal.

 

The brilliance of this scene illuminates an even bigger reason why this movie is a success, which is the fact that the heroes feel so human compared to others in this genre. This is due to a convincing performance by Boseman as he uses Coogler’s script to turn T’Challa into a multifaceted and relatable character.

 

The soundtrack to this culturally significant movie fittingly also highlights black artists. From the pounding beats of African drums to the soulful verses of Kendrick Lamar and The Weeknd, the soundtrack is definitely a highlight.

 

Ironically, the overabundance of all-star acting in this film creates my only legitimate gripe with the editing because so many great characters are underused. I could have done without a few scenes involving the brash arms dealer Klaue (Andy Serkis) and would love to have heard a few more lines from radicalized Wakandan N’Jobu (Sterling K. Brown) and T’Challa’s wise mother Ramonda (Angela Bassett).

 

However, this would have come at the expense of some action scenes and so I can understand why Coogler chose the scenes he did when making cuts.

 

All in all, “Black Panther” lives up to the nationwide hype it has garnered and is worth a trip to the theaters to see.