“Black Panther”: All hail the king

Photo from imdb.com.

Patrick Crossen was awarded the Student Keystone Press Award for his previous article, “The cure to franchise fatigue,” which was published in the Setonian’s December 2017 graduation magazine.

It seems like only yesterday we were hurtling through space and helping Thor reclaim Asgard from the grips of his sister Hela. But it wasn’t yesterday. “Thor: Ragnarok” came out almost four months ago, which means that the world was ready for another Marvel movie. But even so, I don’t think any of us were ready for “Black Panther.”

The film smashed its way into the box office on Feb. 16, and hasn’t looked back since. Now the highest ranking Marvel movie of all time with a 97 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, “Black Panther” has made an impression on the world, and brought to the screen one of the most refreshingly original superhero films to date.

Set in the hidden country of Wakanda, “Black Panther” focuses on T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman), the newly crowned king of Wakanda after the murder of his father (a main plot point in “Captain America: Civil War”). But before T’Challa can take the throne, a mysterious villain named Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) enlists the help of Ulysses S. Klaw (Andy Serkis) in an attempt to take over Wakanda.

But that’s not all. The amazing thing about “Black Panther” is that it is able to juggle an amazing cast of characters that never overshadow T’Challa (although Killmonger is a showstopper.) “Black Panther” allows these characters to be exceptionally secondary, but still amazingly fleshed out and human in their own right.

There’s Okoye (Danai Guirra), the stony-faced general of Wakanda’s army. Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o), who works as a spy for Wakanda. Shuri (Letitia Wright), T’Challa’s younger sister and technological genius. And that’s just the beginning! The film is also supported by all-star actors like Martin Freeman, Angela Bassett and Forest Whitaker.

“Black Panther” has the tough job of showing us someplace new, while still remaining grounded on Earth. Director Ryan Coogler was tasked with showing us exactly what a paradise-city would look like without going full alien on us. The result is beautiful.

“Black Panther” feels like the first earth-bound Marvel film that has its own personality. The usual skyscrapers and cities that we’re used to seeing our heroes leap from are replaced by lush green fields, a scorching desert sun and mountain landscapes that truly show the expanse of Wakanda.

Wakanda has snowy mountains, roaring waterfalls, underground mines and aquatic transportation that make us feel like we’re in another world. Flying ships and holographic arm plates remind us just how advanced this society is. Coogler presents an Africa untouched by colonialism. It is a celebration of what Africa could be, instead of what it is.

And that’s just Wakanda. Boseman, who stunned audiences in “Civil War,” continues to finds the perfect balance between regal and humble in his performance as T’Challa. He’s capable, an important characteristic for our heroes, but he respects the input of others, especially Okoye.

Not only is “Black Panther” the first Marvel film to star a black superhero, but also it’s the first Marvel film that gives women a chance to be heroes. Okoye is clearly the kingdom’s best fighter, Shuri is the brains of Wakanda and Nakia sees how the world outside Wakanda is hurting and longs to help them.

In this idealistic society of Wakanda, even gender equality is prevalent throughout their culture. Coogler creates a fantasy realm, one that we all might hope to stumble upon in our travels. A hidden city of paradise just like Cortez searched for.

But even Eden had the presence of the snake. Killmonger is the best Marvel villain to date because he hauntingly mirrors T’Challa, and the film reminds us of this over and over again. In two dreamlike trances to the “Ancestral Plane,” Killmonger and T’Challa each have the opportunity to speak to their deceased fathers. The dialogue in these two scenes is so strikingly similar that any viewer would have to be dull not to pick up on what Coogler is trying to do.

Coogler clearly loves Killmonger, and wants the audience to think twice about hating him. “Black Panther” wants us to realize the similarities between these characters. Not just in the dialogue, but even in the way the characters are filmed.

Coogler makes heavy use of back shots, following T’Challa from behind, so that the camera rolls steadily along behind him. In a scene where Killmonger enters the throne-room of Wakanda, the camera follows him from behind, but begins upside-down, slowly making its way up, showing the perversion of the scene. Where once we followed a good king, we now follow the evil one.

Small moments like this are what make “Black Panther” a magnificent triumph, and easily one of the best Marvel films yet. Thank god “Infinity War” isn’t until May, because the world isn’t nearly done basking in the glory of the King of Wakanda yet.

Published By: Stephen Dumnich

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