No, “Black Panther” Doesn’t Meet Expectations. It Crushes Them. [opinion]

“[…] The wise build bridges. The foolish build barriers.” – T’Challa

The king of Wakanda is here, ladies and gentlemen, and he is not playing games.

“Black Panther” premiered with a bang and roared into theaters Feb. 15 as the first Marvel film of 2018. Rest assured, fans. You won’t be disappointed. With ten years of film under its belt, Marvel is celebrating their anniversary in a big way. The first movie in the franchise to feature a majority black cast took my expectations and chucked them right out the window. Let’s get into what makes this movie such a fantastic ride.

Chadwick Boseman (“Captain America: Civil War,” “Get On Up,” “Marshal”) reprises his role as T’Challa, the Black Panther. When we last saw him, he was mourning the loss of his father, King T’Chaka (John Kani reprises his role and his son, Atwanda Kani, portrays a young T’Chaka), who was killed during the events of “Captain America: Civil War.” This film starts off one week later. T’Challa is preparing to take his place as the king of Wakanda. Unfortunately, it won’t be a smooth trip.

Boseman — whose (thirst-inducing) “Rolling Stone” cover essentially broke the internet — is joined by some familiar faces. Danai Gurira (“The Walking Dead”) plays Okoye, a fierce general and T’Challa’s personal guard. When Okoye wasn’t throwing shade, spears or, in one glorious instance, a wig, she was leading the incredible all-female force of warriors, the Dora Milaje.

Lupita Nyong’o (“Star Wars: The Last Jedi.” “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” “The Queen of Katwe”)  joins the cast as Nakia, a formidable fighter in her own right, and T’Challa’s love interest. T’Challa’s sister, Shuri, may just be the most intelligent (and most adorable) person on the planet. Letitia Wright gives the character an intensity and brightness that we hope to see again in upcoming Marvel films.

Angela Bassett’s powerful performance as Ramonda, the queen mother, was complimented by the passion of Forrest Whitaker as the elder Zuri. Winston Duke‘s incredible portrayal of the rival warrior M’Baku and Daniel Kaluuya (“Get Out,” “Black Mirror”) as W’Kabi, T’Challa’s closest friend. British favorite Martin Freeman (“Sherlock,” “The Hobbit”) reprises his role as Agent Everett Ross, while Andy Serkis returns as Ulysses Klaue, a dangerous arms dealer.

The common thread connecting these characters is Michael B. Jordan‘s Erik Killmonger (called Erik Stevens in the film). He enters the world of Wakanda with a taste for vengeance and a thirst for power, following a path set in motion when his father, N’Jobu (Sterling K. Brown), was betrayed.

The performances in this movie are only rivaled by the jaw-dropping story and stunning visuals. Director Ryan Coogler (“Fruitvale Station,” “Creed”) brought the world of Wakanda to life with richness that almost goes beyond words. With the exception of a few brief detours to the US, the UK and South Korea, the majority of the film takes place on the continent of Africa. We get a deep look at Wakanda and how it became one of the most technologically advanced (and well-hidden) civilizations in the world, thanks to the discovery of vibranium. Coogler’s vision combines that technology with a gorgeous, accurate representation of real African societies and traditions. The colors of each tribe, the interweaving of real tribal elements and the choice of Xhosa as the language of Wakanda are only a taste of what makes this movie such a joy to watch.

As a young African-American woman and a writer, this movie spoke to me in ways I didn’t expect. I consider myself to be a huge Marvel fan. I am used to the movies eliciting an emotional response (for example, I will fight you over Bucky Barnes), but “Black Panther” touched something personal. For the first time, I saw parts of myself reflected in the heroes on screen.  I think that can be said for many audience members of differing races, backgrounds and beliefs. In the closing credit scene (Marvel fans know the drill) T’Challa makes a powerful statement about the importance of coming together in times of need, building bridges instead of barriers. Given the current tense political climate in the US, it’s not hard to imagine that Marvel was making a point.

Webb Black Panther

The movie itself is a statement. Even the incredible soundtrack speaks volumes. No pun intended. Fathers and sons, oppression and freedom, family and duty, life and death, lies and betrayal, revenge and mercy — the parallels shown throughout are a startling reflection of challenges young people across the world face, not just in the black community.

Looking for a flaw in “Black Panther” was like trying to find a crack in a diamond or, in this case, vibranium. While there is no such thing as a perfect movie, it is difficult to deny that this one carries something special. The decision to release “Black Panther” during Black History Month and in the midst of tough times for America’s youth points toward the importance of standing behind a positive message even in the face of opposition.

Marvel is poised to continue the story of T’Challa and Wakanda in the upcoming “Infinity War” film, which pictures Steve Rogers and T’Challa side by side as the group of heroes prepare to face their greatest enemy yet. We can only hope that the positive, powerful momentum “Black Panther” built will continue to break down barriers and pave the way for a new type of superhero.

(Videos/Photos provided by YouTube, Marvel. Poster photo provided by author.)



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