Black Panther is the eighteenth installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It stars Chadwick Boseman, Lupita Nyong’o, and Michael B. Jordan.
A folk tale about the birth of Wakanda, an Afrofuturist city, starts the film. A group of African tribes fight and eventually come together for the benefit of their prosperity. Actively staying out of the rest of the world’s affairs, they are able to prosper with technology and medicine not seen anywhere else in the world, thanks to the material Vibranium.
In 1992, a Wakandan spy named N’Jobu (Sterling Brown) became disillusioned to the isolationist policy of his home country, planning to use their technology to gain power for more influence. He is confronted by T’Chaka, N’Jobu’s older brother and then-king of Wakanda and sentenced to stand trial in Wakanda. City kids look on as cloaked ships leave the scene.
Now in modern day, T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) is the current Black Panther and set on a mission with the general of his army Okoye (Danai Gurira) to find another Wakandan spy Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o), who also happens to be T’Challa’s ex-girlfriend. They gather to crown the new king of Wakanda following the events of Captain America: Civil War. With the crowning comes the challenge to be a new Black Panther. Each tribe has an opportunity to challenge the current title holder in combat, with the winner earning the title and powers of the Black Panther.
Meanwhile, at an art museum, an elaborate heist is conducted by Erik Stevens (Michael B. Jordan), given the nickname Kilmonger, and Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis) to steal a Vibranium-based weapon. Ultimately, Klaue and Kilmonger plan to make elaborate weapons and expose Wakanda for keeping advanced technology for their own use.
The plot for the movie ended up being much more elaborate than I had anticipated. Standard hero-fighting-villain plot aside, the movie makes great use of Chekov’s Gun, a plot device that introduces an item early in the movie and makes use of it by the third act. And with the exception of a lousy but ultimately necessary plot convenience, the movie is kept at an exciting pace.
Black Panther was previously introduced in the third Captain America movie, Civil War, wanting revenge for his father’s death. His character is further established by considering the responsibilities of a king and how he needs to lead his people. In addition to being a kick-butt superhero, he also displays his more normal side by interacting with his ex-girlfriend, banter with his sister, and relationship with his royal guards. Other important Wakandans include Shuri (Letitia Wright), T’Challa’s sister and technology innovator, Nakia the Wakandan spy and War Dog on a mission to rescue women gathered by terrorists. Zuri (Forest Whittaker) is Wakand’s shaman and keeper of several rituals.
Other characters outside of Wakanda include Kilmonger, whose character unravels more and more as the film progresses, and Ulysses Klaue, who was previously introduced in Avengers: Age of Ultron as an African smuggler determined to gather and exploit the advances of Vibranium. Finally, there’s Everett Ross (Martin Freeman), who was also introduced in Civil War. His involvement in the film is roughly quadruple that of his previous appearance, this time being involved in the action instead of just interrogations.
Overall, though not all are mentioned, these characters have motivations and reasons for the audience to care about them.
The film includes more languages than just English. African dialects like Hausa are used throughout the film and are typically translated. Martin Freeman and Chadwick Boseman go to great lengths to mask their natural accents, the former instead opting for an American accent and the latter African. For Boseman, the reasoning comes down to the lore before the movie even really begins; with Wakanda not being involved with colonization, the slave trade, or really any relationship with other countries, there’s no opportunity to adopt those kinds of accents.
Loyalty and morality are put to the front of the movie on several occasions, testing promises and duties of several characters. During the challenge in the first act of the movie, T’Challa mentions that, while not as noble, it’s important for his challenger to stay alive to help his people instead of fighting to the death. The film also explores the responsibilities of a leader, particularly a king. With an example set before him, T’Challa is tasked with deciding what is best when there’s more than one correct answer. Nakia, on the other hand, is more concerned with assisting people outside of Wakanda and thinks more can be done if their technology is made available to the world; an idea that’s adamantly avoided by the tribe elders and previous kings.
To further that point, the movie touches on the idea of fascism, ruling through power and takeovers. With the ability to do so, Wakanda could overwhelm other governments and nations and have the opportunity to enforce their laws on others. They can be governed “the right way,” as it’s called more than once. With Wakanda being a peaceful nation (outside of the Challenges, there seems to be no threat of violence anywhere within the city), it brings about a lot of questions.
The film’s soundtrack is produced by rapper Kendrick Lamar, whom the director of the film thought could best portray the thematic elements of the film. There’s plenty of high-intensity moments in the film’s score, and a surprisingly entertaining, albeit short, cover of “What Is Love?” sung by Andy Serkis.
Wakanda is perhaps the best definition of Afrofuturism, a futuristic depiction of African society. The buildings are tall and shiny, and the fields are vast. There are a few moments that involve CGI animals and it’s painfully obvious, despite the detail of those animals. However, the biggest thing about it are the fashion choices for the citizens and warriors of Wakanda. Several outfits are based off of actual African styles and traditions, ranging from Ndebele neck rings to Mursi lip plates. Some of these I was only vaguely familiar of but really helped with the immersion of an African setting, albeit futuristic.