Starring: Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o
Director: Ryan Coogler
Screenplay: Ryan Coogler, Joe Robert Cole
Action/Adventure/Sci-Fi, Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 134 minutes
Release Date: February 16, 2018
It looks like Marvel is putting out a Pink Panther sequel.
Shirley you jest, Greg. This panther is fiercer and greater in every way. Let’s recap.
It’s 1992 in Oakland and the king of the hidden futuristic city of Wakanda is hunting the thief who stole vials of vibranium – a powerful metal from outer space. The thief is the king’s brother who is summarily executed leaving behind a young son. In the present-day Wakanda, T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman), son of the king, is challenged for the throne and must defend his right by hand-to-hand combat. Once T’Challa succeeds, he goes to South Korea in search of Klaue (Andy Serkis) – an arms trader who has stolen Wakandan artifacts and must be brought to justice.
Meanwhile N’Jobu’s (Sterling K. Brown) son, Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan), has plans to use Wakanda’s riches, including vibranium, to liberate Africans worldwide from their oppressors. After Klaue attempts to sell the artifacts to CIA agent Everett Ross (Martin Freeman), Killmonger arrives to kill Klaue. He then brings Klaue’s body to Wakanda where Killmonger announces his true claim to the throne. T’Challa accepts the challenge and the two men engage in hand-to-hand combat, with a surprising final outcome.
Scott, origin stories can be boring. Usually, we get a movie where the first half of the film is taken up with the hero getting their new powers (“hey, I just got bitten by a spider”), learns to use them (“I’m going to need a suit and web slingers”), and by the midpoint has become the hero they were meant to be. The second half is the chasing down and vanquishing of the villain. So, you often get two weak half-movies for the price of one. Not much fun.
Black Panther is different. Our hero starts out as a fully formed hero. But his father dies, leaving a vacuum in the land of Wakanda that can only be filled by ritual battle. Our hero steps up to the challenge and becomes king. But there’s a catch, one of T’Challa’s detractors forces his hand and now the search is on for the notorious Klaue.
Another difference with this film is the wealth of characters. This can be a problem in a 2-hour flick because often there is no time for the secondary characters to develop any depth. But Black Panther skillfully manages this by creating scenes that allow all the characters to participate. As much as this is T’Challa’s story, it is also the story of his family and faithful followers.
You’re right about Black Panther deviating from the origin story norm. From the opening credits, this film is a story about home — finding it, discovering its hidden powers, using those powers to better the world, and seeing home at ever more deeper levels. There are so many great elements of storytelling here. We are treated to reflections on the importance of family, the important linkage to one’s ancestors, the tragedy of colonialism, and the searing legacy of enslavement. It’s a rich narrative about fathers, masculinity, and the sins of the father that the son tries to correct.
I urge readers to check out my colleague Patrice Rankine’s erudite analysis of Black Panther in which he connects the film’s thematic highlights to biblical imagery and classic mythology. Both the hero and the villain of the story have a royal past, and each holds claim to the throne. While the hero is worthy of the status of hero, the villain is morally complex and leaves us pondering the worthiness of his agenda. The best villains in cinema have some redeeming qualities that leave us questioning their villainy and pondering whether they are redeemable. Regarding our hero, Rankine points out that near the film’s end T’Challa addresses the United Nations with a new accent reflecting his transformation into Africa’s international icon. As a result of his journey, T’Challa is forever changed and ready to lead his people toward collective enlightenment.
Black Panther is an artistic marvel (if you will pardon the pun). Everything about it exudes quality – the acting, the costumes, the dialog, world building, backstories, characterizations. This was not a haphazard affair as so many superhero movies have been (see my recent opinion of Thor: Ragnarok). I rarely rate a film above 4 Reels, reserving the highest rating for films that could not have been better made. Surely Black Panther is as good as it gets. I give it 5 Reels out of 5.
As a hero, T’Challa has it all. He starts out feeling entitled, learns that his father was not perfect, falls from grace, and must rise up (with the help of family and friends) to become the hero he is meant to be. It takes the entirety of the film for this transformation to occur. And it is well worth the wait. I give T’Challa 5 out of 5 Heroes.
Black Panther has a wealth of archetypes to choose from. There’s the KING FATHER in T’Challa’s father, the QUEEN MOTHER, the BRATTY SISTER. This is a very strong family hierarchy as laid out by Moxnes. Meanwhile, the RETURNING SON wants to take back the throne. The MENTOR advisor lays down his life for T’Challa. As I said before, it is a credit to the writers that everyone gets plenty of screen time and are well-developed, strong characters. I give them all 5 Arcs out of 5.
You’ve summed it up well, Gregger. Black Panther takes superhero storytelling to a bold, new level of complexity and wonder. Every great hero story is about home. Here we see a hero transforming himself and his people as a result of finding his home and discovering the full potential of himself and his home. There is so much of substance in this film regarding family, ancestry, women, masculinity, and redemption, that we can only scratch the surface here. Suffice to say this movie earns the full 5 Reels out of 5.
T’Challa’s journey is fascinating as it unfolds in ways he never could anticipate. This is the hallmark of good heroic storytelling, as heroes can only transform themselves by encountering unexpected and unsought turbulence, villains, allies, and mentors. Black Panther gifts us with a unique origin story of a superhero from whom we will hear plenty in the coming years. I award him 4 Hero points out of 5.
You’ve mentioned the depth of the archetypal images invoked in this film. There are kings with hidden identities, entire kingdoms themselves with hidden identities, Moxnes’ “deep family roles” involving fathers, uncles, sons, and lovers. There’s even a villain who is not entirely bad and whose intentions leave us pondering the nature of leadership and how to bring about social justice. This film is a treasure trove of archetypes that easily deserve 5 Arcs out of 5.