Black Panther is Marvel’s newest studio film to have taken the box-office to soaring new records. The film has taken the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) to a world far different, unique, and spectacular than any of the studio’s previous films. It immerses you into the new, yet ancient and beautiful nation of Wakanda. A small warning here that spoilers do follow past this paragraph. UTM, I implore you to watch this film as many times as you possibly can.
Directed by Ryan Coogler, the film follows the events that occurred in Captain America: Civil War where T’Challa’s (Chadwick Boseman) father, the previous king of Wakanda, is killed at the hands of Klaw (Andy Serkis). Following this devastating event, T’Challa, also known as the Black Panther himself, returns home to take his place as the new rightful king of Wakanda. Being the fresh new face of Wakanda, he faces the challenge of living up to his father’s legacy in the eyes of the various tribes that make up Wakanda. Yet his most important challenge is when Erik Killmongerer (Michael B. Jordan) challenges T’Challa’s position as king, and places the fate of Wakanda and the world at risk. T’Challa uses his abilities and his full power as the Black Panther to defeat his foes and secure the safety of his people in a world that knows little to none about what makes Wakanda as special as it is.
Let’s begin with the director himself, Ryan Coogler. Black Panther is only his third film, and each one has been critically acclaimed. Coogler’s first film, Fruitvale Station, which also starred Michael B. Jordan, was released at the Sundance Film Festival and blew audiences away. A few years later, Coogler directed and co-wrote CREED, the Rocky Sequel that also became critically acclaimed. Coogler, with both those films, and now Black Panther, has brought the auteur back into big budget blockbuster films. Black Panther is so different because not only did he co-write it, he applied his specific style of filmmaking to a type of film where the attribution of film to director wasn’t prominent in the MCU. Watching Black Panther, there is an understanding that it is a Coogler film.
Coogler’s camera has become so crucial to the style he brings to his film. One important camera technique he uses that’s gradually becoming attributed to him is the use of a continuous rotating Steadicam around two or more characters engaging in dialogue. The camera follows a character until they meet with the other characters, and begins to move around them continuously as they continue their conversation. Coogler used this technique in CREED just before Adonis Creed was about to go to the ring for his penultimate fight, and brought it back here to Black Panther. Only few directors in the MCU have become prominent figures to know that their Marvel film is attributed to them. James Gunn with Guardians of the Galaxy, and Taika Waititi with Thor: Ragnarok are examples of directors in the MCU that have brought their style and techniques to the Marvel films they directed.
Now, into the world of Wakanda. Costume design is spectacular. World design is even more intricate and breathtaking. The characters themselves each bring a breadth of complication and layers to them that allow for a film that isn’t just good vs. bad. This formula used in many other of Marvel’s films is thrown out, and suddenly the good and bad is complicated in Black Panther. Beginning with the most prominent characters of the film, other than T’Challa, we have Shuri (Letitia Wright), Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o), Okoye (Danai Gurira), Ramonda or the Queen Mother (Angela Bassett), W’Kabi (Daniel Kaluuya), M’Baku (Winston Duke), and Everett K. Ross (Martin Freeman). An essay could be written on the brilliance of each of these characters. Each character listed previously brings to Wakanda a uniqueness that is drastically different than the supporting characters of other MCU films. Reason being is that, well, none of these characters are supporting, they’re all just as crucial to saving Wakanda as is the Black Panther himself. Without the support of the women of Wakanda, T’Challa has nothing.
His sister for example, who leads the science and technology of the entire Wakandan Nation, is the reason T’Challa has all his gadgets and mainly his suit. His suit is designed and engineered by Shuri, and so is the rest of Wakandan technology. Okoye, the general of the King’s army, is quick, agile, intelligent, and knows how to fight battles. Nakia, a spy from one of the other tribes in Wakanda, who also happens to be T’Challa’s ex-lover, is a spy whose aim is to help other African nations and give them what they don’t have access to W’Kabi, though he blindly allows Wakanda to be placed in peril, is Okoye’s lover and leads his tribe and supports T’Challa through most of the film. M’Baku, though he challenges T’Challa for the throne, understands the importance of Wakanda, and though he strikes fear into his opponents, he has a heart and soul that is willing to protect Wakanda and his people before letting anyone get to it.
T’Challa himself is a flawed and young king, who still doesn’t know what it means to be a king. Though, he can lead, and is a fearless panther with a heart for all he loves and protects. Agent Everett K. Ross, though he’s brought to Wakanda purely by accident to save his life, he doesn’t fail to take a step back in this nation and follow the lead of the people who make Wakanda what it is. Shuri and Agent Ross work in tandem with each other during crucial turning points of the film. Every character in this film is so essential to the safety of Wakanda that the term “supporting characters” is redundant here. T’Challa needs the strength and the courage of the women and men in his nation to save their beloved nation. The MCU has been known to have a so-called “villain” problem, where usually they follow a specific formula that always ends in their demise. There’s a central villain, with the aim to take over the world and destroy it, and then they’re plummeted to their doom by the superhero. This is something audiences have taken note of and is probably the biggest complaint about the current MCU. However, Erik Killmonger has taken that formula, scrapped it, and has become one of the greatest villains in the MCU.
Erik Killmonger is an ex-military member who was born and raised in Brooklyn, whose father was killed by T’Challa’s father, T’Chaka. Killmonger’s father was T’Chaka’s brother, making Killmonger T’Challa’s cousin. He’s angry because Wakanda has taken away something from him that can never be brought back. He grew up on the streets, with no family, and was left to fend for himself for so many years until he knew he had to go back to Wakanda to get his revenge and be where he belongs, on the throne of Wakanda. Killmonger isn’t a villain whose purpose is to take over the world, he comes with the intention to save the world, to give away the secrets of Wakanda to help the world from its issues, so that no child, mother, or father ever has to live the life he did. Killmonger recognizes that Wakanda can save the world, whereas Wakandans don’t want the world to know who they are because they fear that they’ll be conquered and everything they worked so hard for will be taken away. Though Killmonger has his good intentions, his execution is with rage and revenge, and these two things lead to his demise.
Killmonger is not necessarily a bad guy, nor is T’Challa necessarily a good guy. T’Challa does have to face Killmonger in the end which turns out to be a fight sequence that is vastly different from many others, however in this fight sequence there is the recognition the T’Challa wants to help Killmonger, while Killmonger wants Wakanda to help the world. A complicated villain created a complicated understanding of what it means to be the “bad guy”. Though Killmonger hurt people, he was no different in the end than T’Challa, who, by way of tradition, wanted to keep Wakanda away from the rest of the world and let them fight for themselves, even though Wakanda has the tools to save people. Killmonger wanted Wakanda to save the world with tools unique to them. Killmonger as a villain teaches us that good intentions accompanied by rage, can only lead to demise, but with patience, unity, and one’s ability to hear each other, can there be a powerful strength that allows us to grow and flourish as beings. Killmonger and T’Challa’s final scene is breathtaking as they both watch the Wakandan sunset; the one thing Killmonger has always wanted to do. In this moment, there is nothing but raw human empathy, and beauty in the world of Wakanda.
Black Panther is beautiful. Wakanda is splendid and gorgeous. The characters each bring a breadth of fresh air to this genre of film. Coogler is an auteur who has changed what it means to create these blockbuster films. This film brought Africa to the world, and treated its characters as powerful, humble, and complicated, in such a beautiful way. Black Panther allows African culture to be put on a big screen and celebrated. Coogler introduces the film in a way that makes you think a formula will be used, but quickly alters your perception, and brings you into a universe vastly different than its predecessors in the MCU. Wakanda, and this film, will be in my heart forever, and my hope is that films like this continue to be brought to the screen rather than being these rare moments of celebration. Films like Black Panther teach us about unity and my hope is that this film has opened doors to many films just like it. Before ending this, I do want to make an honourable mention to Rachel Morrison, the cinematographer for the film who has worked with Coogler before, and is an Academy-nominated cinematographer for Mudbound, the first woman to ever do so. Her work is beautiful and it would do her a disservice if she wasn’t mentioned. Coogler and Morrison have brought us a treasure that will be cherished forever. Black Panther forever. Wakanda Forever.