Superhero movie feels both familiar and groundbreaking
“Black Panther” is the 18th installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but it's more than just another superhero movie.
That “Black Panther” carries such high cultural significance in 2018 doesn't say a lot about where we are as a society, but it's more than just an overdue step of onscreen representation. It's also a rollicking good blockbuster, even if it doesn't quite reinvent the wheel.
Ever since the trailer dropped — one friend immediately called it the blackest thing he'd ever seen onscreen — it was clear this was more than the Marvel franchise checking off a box in the diversity column. This was a superhero movie from a black perspective.
In the director's chair was Ryan Coogler, fresh off of completely reinvigorating the Rocky series with “Creed.” He co-wrote the script with Joe Robert Cole. So the only white people you'll see in the writing credits are Black Panther creators Stan Lee and Jack Kirby.
Then, holy cow, this cast. Chadwick Boseman returns as T'Challa/Black Panther, ready to showcase true action-star chops. Coogler reteams with Michael B. Jordan, the star of “Creed” and his debut feature, “Fruitvale Station.” This time Jordan gets a juicy and complex villain with a fantastically villainous name, “Erik Killmonger.”
Toss in a couple of Oscar winners in Lupita Nyong'o (playing a strong woman who defies a mere “love interest” label) and Forest Whitaker, plus a couple of Oscar nominees in Angela Bassett and “Get Out” breakout Daniel Kaluuya.
This cast is so black that the internet has hilariously declared Martin Freeman (who played Bilbo Baggins) and Andy Serkis (who played Gollum) as “the Tolkien white guys” in the cast.
The story centers around T'Challa returning to his native land of Wakanda, an African nation hidden from the world and far technologically advanced, thanks to a rare substance called vibranium.
T'Challa returns to claim his throne and then protect his people and the world from those who use vibranium for less noble purposes.
In his biggest feature to date, Coogler proves adept at handling all the moving parts of a Marvel movie, from the backstory to the (sometimes too busy) cast of characters to the requisite “wow” factor we expect from a blockbuster.
Those who would say they don't want social commentary in their comic-book movies don't understand much about the origins of these superheroes, but Coogler never hits audiences over the head with it. From its proud and advanced African setting to so many strong female characters, he simply imagines a world as it should be.
My biggest knock on “Black Panther” is that it doesn't entirely break the mold of the superhero genre, but that's just speaking to my personal burnout on these movies.
Hopefully after the overcrowded “Avengers: Infinity War” we can revisit some of these heroes on their own, because we deserve at least one more “Black Panther” movie.