Black Panther is the greatest black superhero movie ever made. As the eighteenth installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Black Panther finally delivered on the promise of Wakanda. First appearing in Fantastic Four #52, the Black Panther became the first black superhero created for mainstream comics. Stan Lee always wanted more black people in crowd shots, so it was only a matter of time before Stan Lee & Jack Kirby teamed up for the game changing 1966 issue. Fun fact: the superhero Black Panther got his name 3 months before the Black Panther Party were formed. It was just a coincidence, but the name was briefly changed to Black Leopard before they realized it wasn’t necessary. The African King of Wakanda inspired fellow black superheroes like the African American Falcon and Luke Cage.
He was going strong starring in Jungle Action comics and eventually joining the Avengers, but he never became a top tier Marvel hero. Being part black myself, I’ve always had the utmost respect for Black Panther. I just never considered him a favorite. I enjoyed all of his animated appearances in direct-to-video movies & TV. I expected to see a live-action movie one day, but I didn’t anticipate its impact. Marvel foolishly sold their rights to Colombia Pictures with Wesley Snipes wanting to make a movie in 1992, 6 years before starring in Blade. 2 decades later, Black Panther fit comfortably into the MCU with producer Kevin Feige laying the groundwork in Avengers: Age of Ultron and Captain America: Civil War before a solo movie in 2018 directed by the Studio’s first black director Ryan Coogler…
Black Panther is a major success with a lot more effort put into it than most MCU movies. It’s also an MCU film that I have very complicated feelings towards. Ever since his creation, Black Panther was meant to be a wise, regal, combat proficient ruler of his own African nation. In his first appearance, Black Panther tested himself in battle by inviting the Fantastic Four to Wakanda. After unmasking himself, T’Challa earned their trust and became a longstanding ally to all heroes of the Marvel Universe. Black Panther was always a cool superhero with comics that tackled real world issues, and the storyline “Panther’s Rage” even became the first Marvel graphic novel. He became more recognizable after joining the Avengers in Avengers #52, but it’s a wonder why he never became more popular.
Diversity in the MCU was already pretty common with Netflix shows like Luke Cage entering its second season, Hulu shows like The Runaways finishing its first season, and Freeform shows like Cloak & Dagger set for a summer release. As a Marvel fan, I knew Black Panther was on the way ever since Captain America picked up his shield made out of the rarest metal on Earth. I knew they were serious when Bruce Banner mispronounced the name Wakanda and Ulysses Klaue sold a deposit of Vibranium to Ultron. Then it got real as soon as T’Challa was set to appear as the Black Panther in Civil War. Although I wasn’t familiar with Chadwick Boseman at first, I at least knew him as the actor who played all of the iconic African American historical figures. From Floyd Little & Jackie Robinson to James Brown & Thurgood Marshall. So why not add Black Panther to the list?
I was impressed by Boseman’s performance in Civil War and curious to see how a solo film would turn out after so many elements were already introduced in previous films. Black Panther became one of the most comic accurate Marvel origin stories ever made since great care was taken into every frame. Coogler was a comic book fan growing up, so he made sure to stay true to the story. He also brought most of his production team from Fruitvale Station and Creed to give the Marvel Studios movie a familiar, if more distinct look. Black Panther is one of the most colorful MCU films, in more ways than one. The cast was obviously predominantly black and so was most of the production team. The opening finally steeps us into the unique history of the fictional country Wakanda. Just like the comics, sand illustrates how a meteorite landed in Africa thousands of years ago. The massive amount of Vibranium united the four tribes who worship the panther god Bast. The River tribe, Mining tribe, Merchant tribe, and Boarder tribe form Wakanda, but the gorilla god worshiping Jabari tribe part ways. As Wakanda becomes a technologically advanced nation, increasing world problems force the Wakandans to hide their knowledge posing as a Third World country.
Then the story is taken to 1992 Oakland, California since that’s where Coogler grew up. The cast of Black Panther is full of both prominent and up-and-coming black actors and actresses. This is Us star Sterling K. Brown of course plays a part as N’Jobu. An undercover Wakandan working as a spy for the War Dogs. N’Jobu is also the brother of King T’Chaka. The Grace Jones looking Dora Milaje present their king adorned with a comic accurate regal Black Panther costume of his own. What’s cool about his appearance is the fact that John Kani’s own son Atandwa Kani got to play his father’s character in his younger days. He was also a consultant for the fictional Wakandan language. African accents are some of the easiest accents to imitate, so every actor does a good job of it. Wakandans are identified by awkward inner lip tattoos. T’Chaka greets his brother, but reveals his betrayal of allowing Ulysses Klaue into their country. He also reveals his partner James to be a Wakandan spy as well. Although Denzel Whitaker plays Forest Whitaker’s Zuri at a young age (complete with signature eye droop), there’s surprisingly no relation.
As N’Jobu’s basketball playing son watches in astonishment as the Wakandan aircraft takes off, the Marvel Studios logo turns purple. The events of Civil War are recapped with a news reporter talking about the death of King T’Chaka at the Vienna International Center. T’Challa is already the Black Panther, so that part of his origin is already taken care of. T’Challa is on a mission with Dora Milaje general Okoye to extract his ex from an undercover War Dogs assignment. Just like Coogler, I haven’t seen The Walking Dead, but figured Danai Gurira was a perfect fit for the leader of the all-female Wakandan guard. Although Black Panther is primarily focused on black culture, women are given just as much attention with every female character being three-dimensional. Okoye is a proud Wakandan and a capable warrior who assists in most missions done by the Black Panther. Florence Kasumba previously appeared as Ayo, the Dora Milaje who threatened to “move” Black Widow. Their shaved heads and spears closely resemble the comics, but the “wives-in-training” part is dropped.
I very much appreciate the costume design being colorful like a comic book, yet close to ceremonial African attire. Wakandan clothing is authentic with a cross between traditional and modern. Turns out Vibranium is so all-purpose that it’s practically magic. High tech kimoyo beads can heal, detonate, and create sand holograms like the not-too-distant future. It’s fitting that Grace Jones was referenced since Black Panther is very much a love letter to afrofuturism. Wakandan aircrafts don’t look too alien and most of the city and technology is pretty old school. Although I love the way Asgard was portrayed, I do sometimes wish it was fleshed out as much as Wakanda. T’Challa smoothly dons his Panther habit that’s just as beautiful as when we saw it in Civil War. Like most Wakandan attire, Vibranium is woven into the black costume complete with panther ears, retractable claws, and comic accurate white eyes.
As the Black Panther drops from the aircraft, he takes out enemy jeeps. The opening jungle fight is dynamic with fluid movements from the King as he sneak attacks his enemies from a tree. Unfortunately, he freezes as soon as he sees his ex Nakia. Although Black Panther has had love interests including American singer Monica Lynne and Storm herself, the lesser known Nakia was chosen as a comprise. Since the movie isn’t primarily set in America and a member of the X-Men was obviously off the table. In the comics, Nakia is the villainous Malice, but the movie makes her more of an opinionated War Dog. I expected Lupita Nyong’o to play a part since she’s an Oscar winner and Disney had already cast her in so many other projects. She’s just as strong acting opposite Chadwick Boseman. T’Challa & Nakia maintain a strong relationship that mostly shows in political discussions about the country’s future. She joins T’Challa at his coronation ceremony.
Wakanda is entered through an invisible dome where we see the entire country appropriately set to African beats. Although it can occasionally feel like The Lion King (or even Coming to America), I was happy that they went with traditional African music. Hip hop is still present on the Kendrick Lamar soundtrack, but it doesn’t dominate the movie. Black Panther is a lot closer to The Winter Soldier or Civil War in terms of humor. It’s not devoid of comedy, but I expected more dignity to be given to a character like this. T’Challa is still very stoic with all the usual quipping being given to his younger sister Shuri. The always respectable Angela Bassett plays mother of T’Challa Queen Romanda and newcomer Letitia Wright plays Princess Shuri. Wright became the movie’s breakout star since Shuri is the funniest and most intelligent character. Despite being 16, Shuri develops most of Wakanda’s advanced technology in a lab built atop a literal underground railroad that transports Vibranium.
The coronation ceremony is a major event witnessed by all tribes of Wakanda. It’s a spirited celebration with dancing and the introduction of the now iconic phrase “Wakanda forever!” The arm crossing was a nice touch. The coronation is followed by the ritual combat of anyone who challenges the throne. Boseman of course has his obligatory shirtless scene during the waterfall fight. The only challenger is leader of the Jabari tribe M’Baku. Although he’s not referred to as Man-Ape for obvious reasons, he does retain his comic counterpart’s white fur outfit, gorilla mask, and ape howls. Newcomer Winston Duke also became an instant fan favorite with his intense, but likeable performance. M’Baku resents Wakanda’s lack of tradition and engages in a rough one on one battle with the king. It’s an excellent pantherless fight that ends in M’Baku yielding.
The final step is T’Challa being buried and ingesting the comic accurate Heart-Shaped Herb that gives him his enhanced reflexes. Only then does he enter the Ancestral Plane, which resembles aurora borealis with CGI black panthers. One of the panthers is T’Challa’s deceased baba T’Chaka. John Kani is just as good as his brief appearance in Civil War, telling his son all it takes for him to be a good king. T’Challa feels more ready after conversations with Nakia and his best friend W’Kabi. Daniel Kaluuya wasted no time getting out of his breakout role in Get Out. He plays the complex friend of T’Challa who is also the husband of Okoye (though it’s hard to gage their relationship based on the final cut). Unlike the comics, Ulysses Klaue is responsible for W’Kabi’s parent’s death instead of the death of King T’Chaka. Changing it to Zemo was more necessary for Civil War.
In terms of villains, Black Panther kind of uses up every well known member of his rogues gallery. In the comics, Ulysses Klaue is perhaps the archenemy of Black Panther who uses a prosthetic sonic cannon as the supervillain Klaw. Age of Ultron introduced Klaue as a more downplayed South African arms dealer played by Andy Serkis. Although it’s still bizarre that the king of mo-cap was cast as a non-CGI character in the MCU, I did get very excited as soon as Ultron chopped his arm off. Klaue now has a similar arm cannon that’s concealed within a prosthetic arm. Although Serkis has his menacing moments, his exuberance can be a bit cringy. Although Klaue seems to be the main villain, a London museum attack reveals the true antagonist. Erik “Killmonger” Stevens correctly identifies an African artifact as a piece of Vibranium that’s part of a much larger plan.
Like the comics, Killmonger was a major enemy of the Black Panther who was taken from Wakanda at an early age. It was the perfect role for frequent Coogler collaborator Michael B. Jordan. And an obviously better choice than race changing the Human Torch. It was the best possible redemption after the awful Fant4stic, since Killmonger is easily one of the better villains in the MCU. His appearance is similar to the comic with more modern dreadlocks and a uniform modeled after Vegeta from Dragon Ball Z. T’Challa is informed of Klaue’s return and he seizes the opportunity to apprehend him in South Korea. But first he needs a few upgrades. Shuri supplies him with new kimoyo beads and sound nullifying panther boots that she humorously calls sneakers. It’s a far better joke after the cringe inducing dead meme “What are those!” T’Challa also receives a fancy new Panther habit that forms from his necklace using nanotechnology. It’s basically become a quick fix for MCU heroes ever since Star-Lord’s helmet did the same. Now everyone can show their face without removing their mask by hand. The suit more impressively contains kinetic energy that emits a purple blast when attacked.
T’Challa travels to South Korea along with Nakia and Okoye wearing an uncomfortable wig. It’s at a casino that Klaue is expected to make a deal with a potential buyer. The buyer ends up being Central Intelligence Agent Everett K. Ross. Ross was originally created as a bumbling point of view character for the predominantly white Marvel comics readers. Martin Freeman wasn’t a major standout in the crowded Civil War, but it was already obvious that he’d be less of a comic relief. Ross doesn’t question T’Challa’s role as the Black Panther after he brought Zemo into custody. It’s also at the casino that Stan Lee cameos as a relatively reserved gambler. The irony of Freeman and Serkis being cast in earlier films, is that we end up seeing Bilbo and Gollum interact again. Making them the “Tolkien white guys” of the movie. When Okoye is made, she tosses her wig and they engage in an awesome casino fight. Okoye uses her spear, Nakia fights hand to hand, and Klaue uses his arm cannon on T’Challa. The fight is taken to the streets where Okoye & Nakia commandeer their Vibranium car. They also use one of the kimoyo beads to activate another interesting piece of technology that allows Shuri to remotely drive a car in a Wakandan simulator.
T’Challa gets into Black Panther mode by flipping onto the car and activativing his kinetic energy in a fun car chase. Okoye does pretty well too, but their car is comically destroyed. Black Panther succeeds by scratching the wheels in Klaue’s car. Rather than spark an international incident out of revenge, Klaue is instead taken into custody. T’Challa & Okoye secretly listen to Ross as he and Klaue have a game of riddles. Klaue reveals Wakanda to be rich with Vibranium and advanced technology before being rescued by Killmonger. Black Panther defuses a bomb, but hesitates when he notices the Wakandan ring around Erik’s neck. Ross is gravely injured from a bullet wound after saving Nakia. Just like Bucky, Ross is healed in Wakanda by Shuri and goes on a journey of self discovery. T’Challa seeks answers from Zuri, who reveals himself to be responsible for N’Jobu’s death. T’Chaka was forced to kill his own brother in defense and abandon his child to cover up the existence of Wakanda. It was clearly a big mistake since Erik Stevens easily strolls into Wakanda with the body of Klaue and the inner lip tattoo that his father gave him.
Although Killmonger seems sympathetic, he does show his villainy by shooting his pointless girlfriend and killing Klaue out of nowhere. Shuri & Ross reveal Erik’s history as a black ops SEAL who’s high body count earned him the name Killmonger. It’s at the throne room that Erik declares his intentions to complete his father’s work by liberating oppressed black people with devastating Wakandan weapons that they can use to overthrow colonizers. While speaking Wakandan, Erik reveals his name to be N’Jadaka, and exercises his birthright to challenge the throne. The second waterfall fight is more small scale, but just as intense. Killmonger reveals the scarring on his body that represents all the people he’s killed to get to this moment. The one on one fight is once again better since CGI doesn’t distract from how devastating it becomes. Killmonger kills Zuri and throws T’Challa to his “death.” Although it’s obvious they shouldn’t bow to him, Wakanda accepts their new king regardless. HIs visit to the Ancestral Plane is more emotional with his father lost in their home in Oakland.
Nakia, Shuri, and Romanda flee with Ross into the jungle, but Okoye stays behind since she’s too loyal to the throne. She’s hesitant to accept her new king, but her husband W’Kabi is fully supportive of his plans for global domination. Fortunately, T’Challa is found mostly alive with the Jabari tribe. A noble act that earns their respect. T’Challa is brought back to health with a Heart-Shaped Herb that Nakia managed to take before Erik burned the rest. His visit to the Ancestral Plane is more angry with the former Black Panther’s being scolded for turning their backs on the world. Making Killmonger the first villain in the MCU to change the heroes ideology. T’Challa asks for M’Baku’s help in battle, but he refuses. The only help he receives is from Shuri using sonic weapons, Nakia dressed as a Dora Milaje, and Ross shooting down aircrafts before they leave Wakanda. Black Panther’s grand entrance is magnificent with T’Challa declaring himself not to be dead. Although most of Black Panther is very strong, the climax is the weakest part. It’s very much an overblown CGI fest complete with CGI war rhinos and Killmonger dressed in a CGI gold variant of the Panther habit. Which would be totally fine if the CGI didn’t look like a video game. T’Challa fighting Killmonger in the underground railroad resembles X-Men from the year 2000.
It’s not as good as the waterfall fight, but at least the Dora Milaje fighting together and the Jabari coming to the rescue can make up for it. Okoye snaps W’Kabi out of it when he sees that the war in Wakanda is wrong. As that fight ends, Ross manges to shoot down the last aircraft. Leaving T’Challa to outsmart his cousin using the Vibranium defusing railroad against him. With Erik fatally wounded, his wish is granted with a final view of the sunset. He also says the line “Bury me in the ocean, like my ancestor’s who jumped from the ships, because they knew death was better than bondage.” Let’s just say it’s not often you hear a line like that in a Disney movie. T’Challa reclaims his throne, kisses Nakia, and peace is restored to Wakanda, but not before a few wrongs are righted. T’Challa & Shuri visit Oakland where the latter reveals his intention to start a Wakandan outreach center in front of amazed children. The original song “All the Stars” plays over the sandy credits sequence before a mid-credits scene that feels more like a proper ending. It’s simply King T’Challa announcing to the United Nations that Wakanda will be open to the world like one big tribe. The after-credits scene offers some excitement for Avengers: Infinity War with a fully recovered Bucky being referred to as the White Wolf. A moniker that previously belonged to an unrelated character.
Black Panther looked promising as soon as I saw the trailer, but the badly photoshopped teaser poster could’ve been better. As a Marvel fan, I was first in line at the theater and I fully enjoyed the experience. Although I appreciated the impact and cultural significance, my complicated feelings started to form when audiences wouldn’t stop talking about the movie months after its appropriate Black History month release. I just wanted to see Infinity War, but casual audiences who didn’t even see his first appearance in Civil War elevated Black Panther above the massive event. The worst part was people who got accusatory when anyone offered the slightest bit of criticism to the movie. My enjoyment returned after a rewatch and I was fine with it becoming a billion dollar box-office hit. Then I had to question Black Panther becoming the first superhero movie nominated for Best Picture. It just seemed like special treatment since The Dark Knight, The Winter Soldier, or Logan weren’t even nominated. I was happy when Marvel Studios received their first Oscars, since Best Original Score, Costume Design, and Production Design were the most deserving awards. Although I maintained my opinion for awhile, my appreciation for Black Panther grew with the tragic passing of Chadwick Boseman. In the end, he was a true hero who fought through his illness to leave an undeniable impact on superhero cinema. Black Panther is guaranteed to make you scream “Wakanda forever!”
Followed by: Black Panther: Wakanda Forever