You’ve never seen a Marvel movie like this.
One of the most common criticism of the Marvel cinematic universe is that it can be somewhat monotonous; how many times can the same five or six burly dudes save a city from being destroyed before the schtick gets old? Not too many, as Marvel Studios have apparently realised. The past two years of the ongoing Marvel saga have seen a little bit more variety, with the more character driven Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 and Spider-Man: Homecoming, as well as the buddy-comedy-in-space that is Thor: Ragnarok.
Black Panther smokes them all, though. It doesn’t just add variety to the MCU, it diversifies it. Previous entries have offered variations on a theme, but Black Panther was cut from an entirely different cloth, and it’s far from shy about it. Director Ryan Coogler has crafted a world that Hollywood never puts in the spotlight, and tells a story from a perspective that Hollywood rarely considers. The result is something that really feels fresh, twisting the familiar to be about something entirely new. The nation of Wakanda is a science fiction marvel, but it doesn’t look like Star Wars: it hails from its afrofuturist inspirations, giving the world a vibrant and unique visual style that embraces African cultures without even the slightest flinch.
Its story, too, is bred of a set of values and circumstances that until now were beyond the scope of the Marvel cinematic universe. Chadwick Boseman’s T’Chala isn’t a super soldier, or a billionaire, or a demigod; he’s the King of a nation. The need to protect people is embedded in his character; the central conflict explores how wide that scope should be. Should the technologically advanced Wakanda step out from the shadows, and use its resources to weigh in on international affairs? Or should it remain hidden, and not allow for the possibility that its powers fall into the wrong hands?
From that conflict comes out antagonist, Eric Stevens, played by Michael B. Jordan. Stevens has seen first hand the strife that Wakanda refuses to help, and he wants to use those resources to completely tip the balance of power. Michael B. Jordan gives a beyond stellar performance, and the villain is undoubtedly the most compelling that Marvel has ever given us. The CIA refer to him as Killmonger, and his every action proves that he’s earned that title. He has a single goal, set up by clear and understandable motives, and he means business. He is so perfectly born of what this film is trying to say, and it pays off brilliantly. It’s just a shame he isn’t in it more; the narrative moves between being a Bond-esque thriller, a high fantasy drama, and a Game of Thrones-style tribal war, and while there aren’t any missteps, Killmonger is an exceptionally compelling villain, but he’s hardly in the film until the final act.
That being said, this is one of the strongest, and certainly the most unique, film Marvel has offered us yet. Ryan Coogler had something to say.
For some, this isn’t just another installment of the MCU. SJC and Social Media Editor for The Brock Press representative Lydia Collins puts it best: “Black Panther gives something to Black kids that white kids have always had the pleasure of getting in film and media in general; representation. It isn’t mainstream to see Black bodies represented as heroes, and it’s definitely not common for there to be predominately Black casts, as well as a Black director. For many, this is so much more than just a movie.”