A second super hero movie has the internet all atwitter this week with accolades such as “historic” and “triumphant” pretty much for the same reasons. Last year’s Wonder Woman was the first female super hero movie and the first directed by a woman. This year, “The Black Panther” is touted as the first super hero movie with a Black protagonist and directed by a black director. Now the veracity of that claim can be and has been debated, but that is irrelevant to the quality of the film. The Black Panther is a character in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (not the only black one) that interacts with the Avengers. His character was introduced in 2016’s Captain America Civil War and played a major role in the events of that film. In this movie, we learn more about the Black Panther and his alter ego, King T’Challa, ruler of the fictional African country of Wakanda, but the focus of this movie is not really T’Challa or the Black Panther. One could argue the movie is actually about Wakanda. As Wakanda is in Africa, it follows that this movie will feature predominately black characters. In fact, the only principle characters that are not black is Andy Serkis’s Klaw and Martin Freeman’s Ross. Given the setting of the movie and the characters, one would expect certain social commentary about race relations. This film does not shirk in this regard, and in fact, is a bit “in your face” about it, almost too much so, which is the only problem I have with this otherwise enjoyable action movie.
One observation that bears notice is that story told in “The Black Panther”, while set within the MCU, has absolutely no bearing on the greater MCU story arcs. There is no mention of the Infinity Stones, the Avengers or any other heroes at all. In fact, it almost seems as though Freeman’s Ross was tacked on just to tie it in, as his presence really doesn’t move the plot much. Having said that, he does offer a bit of humor.
The rest of the cast turn in solid performances. Chadwick Boseman reprises his role as King T’Challa and brings the same brooding strength to this performance. His likeable naiveté dares the viewer not to like him. His skills as the Black Panther, while impressive, are still developing and he finds himself in dire straits on more than one occasion. Boseman conveys this and portrays T’Challa’s learning process convincingly.
Angela Basset stars as T’Challa’s mother and brings out his humanity along with Letitia Wrght’s performance as Shuri, T’Challa’s sister. We also meet his ex-girlfriend and the general of the king’s guard, who all serve to help T’Challa face his first major challenge as king: A literal challenge for the throne from his American cousin, Killmonger, played by Michael B. Jordan.
The story is full of intrigue and more than one plot twist and if the writers and producers had left it at that, it would have made for an outstanding movie. But with the current social climate, they couldn’t resist attacking the perceived “white-dominated” power structure in the world that was only serving to keep down “those who look like us,” as Killmonger says.
Of course, the film will win the box office. It is an MCU film, after all, and opening on a weekend bereft of any real box office competition. The movie was enjoyable, but it doesn’t rank as high as Civil War or Guardians of the Galaxy, and while it is good, it is not quite historic or triumphant. Movies should earn those accolades with plot, character and message, not by the gender or the color of the skin of the actor or director. I still give it a thumbs up.