I Just Can’t Wait To Be King
The “Marvel formula” has plagued the superhero genre ever since the cinematic universe concept was started. While they do a lot right to succeed including a strong lead character, great supporting cast members, and cool action sequences they are consistently plagued by an underdeveloped villain, a straightforward plot, and lots of one-liners. While Black Panther does adhere to this formula it times, it is also not afraid to be bold and fresh. It has fixed a lot of the problems Marvel Studios has had in order to present an engaging film teeming with great drama and excellent character moments. Not only that,it also contains an excellent villain that is properly developed and delivers a world that is engaging and rich in its own right. Black Panther refuses to conform to be another superhero film and conveys one of Marvel’s best solo movies in quite some time.
After the death of his father in Captain America: Civil War, T’Challa returns home to Wakanda, a small african nation rich in technology, to take on the mantle of king. In this, T’Challa struggles with being a warrior, a good man, and a good king as he attempts to keep tradition alive and help Wakanda prosper. This is further challenged by Killmonger who seeks to destabilize Wakanda’s traditions and institute his own order of justice.
The feel for this movie is unlike any other Marvel movie we have encountered. From the direction to the landscape and culture of Wakanda, there is a sense of liveliness and brevity to the world we are immersed in. Wakanda is definitely a nation that feels lived in, rich in all of its small traditions from technology to fighting. This enhances the movie because you feel the weight on T’Challa’s shoulders as he tries to do what is best for a nation he has grown so accustomed to love.
While this is an origin story, it is much different than the previous Marvel entries. Instead of T’Challa having to prove himself and go on some epic quest, he is already an established leader who has to deal with what happens when someone opposes that leadership. It’s a different and more personal conflict to have, one that gives the movie an added dimension that elevates the franchise to new standards. T’Challa struggles with the consequences of all of the good and bad decisions his ancestor have made but also his own that make this a more personal superhero film.
The entire cast of the movie does a knockout job. Chadwick Boseman’s performance as T’Challa is equal parts humble yet fierce. He has a ferocity about him that he wants to let out but keeps it tame and diplomatic when discussing matters for his nation. He must balance the responsibility of being a warrior and a king and that dichotomy is not easy to deliver yet Boseman excels in delivering yet another three dimensional and complex protagonist.
All of the other characters standout as well with T’Challa’s sister Shuri, Letitia Wright, being the standout. She is the source of most of the humor in the movie but does an excellent job at being a strong well-rounded character in her own right. Lupita Nyong’o’s Nakia and Danai Gurira’s Okoye are also two of the films strongest characters. They are all elite warriors fighting bravely and ferociously to not only stop the conflict but fight for the nation they love. They way they fight and talk with others really gives you the depth that they are fighting for something worth dying for and it’s good to feel that emotional weight with these characters.
Michael B. Jordan’s performance as Killmonger is perhaps the best Marvel has offered in terms of its villains. He is properly pained and motivated in his intentions and it makes him completely empathizable and easy to identify with. In fact, his personal philosophy on the issue was one that I started to agree with at one point which is more to the movie’s credit that the villain can make me doubt even the hero’s intentions.
The reason Killmonger is such a fascinating villain is the social justice and diversity issues he brings up that challenges the traditions of Wakanda. Previous rulers have not been perfect and even selfish to a certain degree leading people like Killmonger to take action and enact his own views into the practices of Wakandan tradition. He seeks to have a profound cultural impact on not only Wakanda but the world, and those philosophies have a direct impact that is relevant in our world today. This makes the movie a more personal journey rather than a generic “save the world” type situation.
While this is one of the best Marvel movies I have seen, there are some problems that drag it down from greatness. Particularly the pacing near the beginning of the movie. There seemed to be two different stories going on when really there should have been one central focus. This is evident during some of the early action sequences which are mainly filler for the real conflict to come. This is a more dramatic and personal story of a king, but because this is a superhero movie there has to be some superhero movies tropes that bring the film down. I had wished they kept it centered on the personal conflict instead of feeling like they had to include more exciting action sequences (which are great in their own right).
Even then, the fact that Black Panther tries to stand apart is something that should be praised. It delivers a rich conflict that is personal and engaging that gives insight on really real issues. This is further exemplified in an excellent villain that raises the bar for Marvel needs to do with its antagonists to make them equally as compelling. The action is great and exciting featuring some brilliant direction but also can distract from the true drama that is simmering within our characters. Black Panther is bold, exciting, emotional, and entrancing that make it the standard for the next round of solo movies to release for the franchise.