FILM REVIEW: Marvel’s BLACK PANTHER

Wakanda Forever! In the wake of his fathers death, T’Challa must step up the throne of Wakanda, and confront it’s past, to shape Wakanda for the future.

BLACK PANTHER
US Release Date: February 16, 2018
Runtime: 134 minutes
Writers: Ryan Coogler, Jack Kirby, Joe Robert Cole
Director: Ryan Coogler
Production Company: Marvel Studios

Cast: Chadwick Boseman as T’Challa, Michael B. Jordan as N’Jadaka/Erik Killmonger, Lupita Nyong’o as Nakia, Danai Gurira as Okoye, Letitia Wright as Shuri, Forrest Whitaker as Zuri, Angela Basset as Ramonda, Winston Duke as M’Baku, Daniel Kaluuya as W’Kabi, Andy Serkis as Ulysses Klaue, Martin Freeman as Martin K. Ross

What You Should Know:
The film takes place in the weeks following the events of Captain America: Civil War and the death of King T’Chaka. In addition to this, Ulysses Klaue previously appeared in Avengers: Age of Ultron. I’d recommend watching Civil War, as it provides a good level of context. The scene with Klaue in Age of Ultron can be found on Youtube.

What You’ll Find Out (SPOILERS)
The film opens with a child being told by their father of the history of Wakanda. In the centuries or preceding the present day a meteor of Vibranium struck Africa, contact with the raw Vibranium altered the flora and fauna of the area, including a heart-shaped herb. Five of the tribes in the area went to war over possession of the metal. However, a warrior discovered and consumed the Heart-Shaped Herb and as a result, gained superhuman abilities, this warrior united four of the five tribes to form the core kingdom of Wakanda, while the fifth tribe, the Jabari, chose to live and exist in isolation. Wakanda’s access to Vibranium resulted in the nation’s rapid technological advancement, however the advent of slavery in Africa as well as it’s colonisation led the nation to further isolate themselves, using their technology to create a barrier from the outside world and projecting the image that it was nothing more than a small 3rd world nation.

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The focus then shifts to 1992, Oakland, where King T’Chaka visits his brother N’Jobu, a Wakandan War Dog- an undercover agent gathering intelligence across the world. However, it is revealed that N’Jobu has betrayed the Wakandan throne and that his partner James is, in fact, another Wakandan agent. The scene cuts to a group of children playing basketball before one looks up into the sky to see a Wakandan airship vanish into the night.

The focus then returns to the present era, where T’Challa and Okoye, the head of the Dora Milaje, to extract Nakia, a war dog, and his former lover, from a mission rescuing women from human traffickers, so that she is able to attend the ceremony where he will be crowned king. Upon their return to Wakanda, we are introduced to T’Challa’s mother Queen Ramonda and his younger sister Shuri, who is the foremost of Wakanda’s scientists.

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The ceremony for T’Challa’s coronation brings together the 4 tribes, strips T’Challa of the strength of the Heart Shaped Herb and offers each tribe the opportunity to face the king apparent in combat for a claim to the throne, while 4 of the tribes decline their right to stake a claim, the Jabari tribe arrive and their leader M’Baku challenges T’Challa. T’Challa emerges victorious and is finally named king. Following this Zuri, the spiritual leader of Wakanda, once again bestows the powers of the Black Panther in a ceremony that allows the monarch to enter the Ancestral Plane of Wakanda, where T’Challa has a final conversation with the spirit of his late father.

The film then moves to the British Museum, where Killmonger and Klaue steal a Vibranium artifact that they then attempt to sell through the black market in South Korea. T’Challa holds a council to decide on how to deal with the resurfaced Klaue, his childhood friend, and leader of the border tribe, W’Kabi urges him to either capture or kill the arms dealer. While infiltrating the deal, T’Challa encounters Everett K. Ross, a US agent seemingly there to buy the Vibranium from Klaue, the Wakandan’s cover is then blown and T’Challa, Okoye, and Nakia pursue Klaue who has outfitted himself with a sonic arm cannon. Eventually, he is captured and interrogated. However, in the process of his interrogation Killmonger stages a breakout during which T’Challa realizes that Killmonger is a member of the Wakandan royal family and Everett Ross is wounded and taken to Wakanda to be healed. In the aftermath of Klaue’s escape, Killmonger then betrays the smuggler and shoots him.

On his return to Wakanda, he demands that Zuri tell him why Killmonger carries a royal ring, whereupon Zuri reveals that Killmonger is the son of Prince N’Jobu, who T’Chaka killed 1992 when N’Jobu attempted to attack Zuri who was the Wakandan double agent. It is revealed that N’Jobu’s betrayal was the plan to use Wakandan technology to aid the struggles of millions of Africans outside of Wakanda and throughout the Diaspora. However T’Chaka and Zuri covered up the death of N’Jobu and against tradition, left his body behind, where N’Jobu was discovered by his young son, N’Jadaka whos name later was changed to Erik Stevens.

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N’Jadaka arrives at Wakanda’s borders and gains W’Kabi’s trust and access to the royal family by presenting the body of Klaue. Everett Ross expands on N’Jadaka’s life after 1992, saying that he became Erik Stevens, a special forces, and later black-ops operative, who gained the nickname Killmonger due to his brutality and kill-count. Despite the protests of the council, T’Challa grants Killmonger an audience, where the latter announces his aim to challenge T’Challa for the title of Black Panther and the throne, then use his new status to use Wakandan technology to allow Africa and the Diaspora to advance and form the basis for an Afro-centric world empire with Wakanda at the centre. In response to N’Jadaka’s challenge, T’Challa agrees, however in the combat ritual, Killmonger’s superior combat experience leads to T’Challa’s swift defeat, in an attempt to save T’Challa’s life, Zuri intervenes and begs N’Jadaka to spare T’Challa in exchange for his own life as he was the one who is t blame for his fathers death. N’Jadaka instead kills Zuri, seemingly mortally wounds T’Challa and hurls him from the waterfall that the combat ground sits upon. Being proclaimed the new Black Panther and king of Wakanda.

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After undertaking the ritual that allows him  to venture to the Ancestral plane, Killmonger meets the spirit of his father, and they are briefly united, before he returns to the physical world and orders the rest of the Heart Shaped Herb to be destroyed, though Nakia, who has gone into hiding with Ramonda and Shuri, steals a sample. N’Jadaka then reveals his plan to provide Wakandan technology to War Dogs and disenfranchised groups in the Diaspora in order to take over and found a global Wakandan Empire.

In the midst of this Nakia, Shuri, Ramonda and Everett Ross, venture into the tribe-lands of the Jabari, in an attempt to seek aid from M’Baku though Okoye refuses to join them given that her role is to protect whoever sits on the throne of Wakanda. While he initially refuses to aid them, given the tense history the Jabari have shared with the rest of Wakanda. However, he relents when Ramonda offers him the last Heart Shaped Herb as a sign of respect. He then reveals that several of his tribesmen discovered the body of the near-dead T’Challa, Ramonda uses the Heart Shaped Herb to save his life, granting him another trip to the Ancestral Plane where he berates the Black Panthers of the past for ignoring the struggles of their fellow Africans throughout the world.

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Upon his awakening, T’Challa petitions M’Baku for aid though once again he declines given the Jabari’s historical isolation. T’Challa then prepares to face his cousin, who is preparing to ship technology to Wakandan War Dogs throughout the world. However, T’Challa arrives to confront him, stating that because he was not killed and did not yield to N’Jadaka during ritual combat, the challenge still stands and T’Challa retains his claim to the throne. N’Jadaka orders W’Kabi and his tribesmen to kill the returned T’Challa, though he is attacked by Okoye and the Dora Milaje who are joined by Nakia and Shuri. In the midst of this Everett Ross is left to pilot a Wakandan airship to prevent the weapon shipments from leaving Wakanda. Nakia, Shuri, Okoye and the rest of the Dora Milaje are surrounded and nearly overwhelmed, though the Jabari tribe arrives and the battle once again evens out. It comes to a close when W’Kabi is forced to confront his lover Okoye and her willingness to either kill him or be killed by him and as a result, he surrenders.

T’Challa eventually moves to face N’Jadaka and their fight leads them to fall down into the Vibranium mines. They spar back and forth, though T’Challa is outmatched by the highly trained N’Jadaka, the invulnerability of their suits prevents either from seriously wounding the other. However, he realises that the technology used by Shuri to deactivate and transport Vibranium would allow them to injure each other and possibly end the fight. Eventually whilst grappling with each other, T’Challa manages to seriously wound N’Jadaka with one of his own blades. The two depart the mines and look out over the setting sun of Wakanda. N’Jadaka remarks that his father told him of Wakanda’s great beauty. T’Challa offers to use Wakandan technology to save his cousin life, however N’Jadaka instead chooses to die free rather than live and be imprisoned and removes the blade embedded in his chest.

In the aftermath of N’Jadaka’s short rule, T’Challa decides that Wakanda must change and begins the process of opening up Wakanda to the rest of the world, buying and opening a Wakandan outreach centre in Oakland where N’Jadaka grew up as well as going before the United Nations to reveal the truth about Wakanda.

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The film closes with a post credits scene, showing Bucky Barnes recovering in Wakanda and being given the name White Wolf by several children.

What Does This Mean for the Future
Ok, So first off, DAMN!!! Marvel is gonna have a real battle to top this film. With a month from the date of writing to Avengers: Infinity War, I can say at this point in time Black Panther is in my opinion the best Marvel Cinematic Universe film. While a large part of this is due to the connection I felt with the film ( I’m Afro-Caribbean) I’m gonna try and save the majority of why as someone of African descent, I feel this film is so important, for a piece that I’ll write in the upcoming week. This aside I felt this was definitely one of the sleekest, most well-written of the Marvel films. Taika Waititi and Ryan Coogler are the first in what I hope are a long line of Marvel directors who a very much left to develop films independent from the wider MCU save for a few moments, because at this time, that is the direction that this film universe needs to take. The standalone entries of Phase Three have been some of the strongest.

Ok so where to start?

I think this movie did a fantastic job at capturing the full essence of the place that is Wakanda, a culture that seamlessly weaves tradition and technology. The city designs, the unique costuming for each tribe, the rituals, everything to highlight the utopia that Wakanda is supposed to represent is done to the highest standard. There were practically no points where I feel any of the costuming or set designs didn’t work. The Dora Milaje armour, the tribal elders each having distinct styles and markings. Killmonger’s crocodile scarring and the Panther suit itself are all amazingly crafted designs. The music suited so well as well. The piece that stuck with me the entire time was the trap beat from the King is Dead that served as a theme for Killmonger. I only wish that even just the beat for All the Stars served as either the intro to Wakanda or the visits to the Ancestral Plane. I think of the three songs that made it into the film, Pray for Me while still a good song was a little unremarkable but it added a good vibe to the Casino. If anything I think dropping a few more of the tracks in or remixing them to fit the soundtrack would’ve been cool, like Shuri’s workshop could definitely have used some more of the Travis Scott or Kung Fu Kenny!

Now onto characters! Overall I think a lot of the supporting characters in the film, play a very strong role in the overall film. Despite not having a ton of screen time, Angela Bassets, Queen Ramonda, just has an air of gravitas surrounding her, likewise with Forrest Whitakers, Zuri, where you just get the sense that the events of the films opening have shaped his entire life. While I’m sure that Ulysses Klaue will be a villain that people would like to see return or have taken a bigger role, but I think given how Black Panther has been established in the MCU, I think the change from how he usually ties into the Black Panther mythos, with T’Challa seeking vengeance against him, to W’Kabi wanting retribution, works much better as it gives T’Challa a chance to take the throne as a much more level-headed king. As a character I think W’Kabi takes the position more traditionally held by M’Baku, and I think his siding with N’Jadaka makes full sense. Martin Freeman’s Everett Ross, was a character that at first I wasn’t too sure about. But I think I came to get that he was supposed to almost act as a point of connection to the audience to kind show how amazing Wakanda is. I did have a moment when he wakes up in Shuri’s lab where I was like “Yo, he’s US government, don’t tell him about Vibranium and shit!” I think by removing him from the main combat scenes makes sense and does avoid some of the white saviour tropes. It’s tricky to make a definite call, but I felt like Nakia isn’t as important a character to the narrative, as Shuri was and definitely not as vital as Okoye. I feel like her prior romance with T’Challa while it wasn’t forced, didn’t feel like it needed to be there, I think her character could have done pretty much the same if she had been T’Challa’s childhood best friend. I think by making her a romantic interest, while not diminishing her character, draws more of the audience’s focus. I wish we got to see a little more of Shuri’s design and creative process. The tech we see in the film is dope and I think we definitely see her step up into potentially being a warrior in her own way, but I think her character would’ve been cooler if we’d just had a scene where we see her working on the nanotech panther suit or putting together her sonic gauntlets.

I’d say overall there were 4 primary characters. Firstly Okoye. It’s a tricky situation, like the film has such a range of strong, smart, powerful female characters, but I felt that Okoye had the strongest character arc. I think being the character that shared so much time working alongside T’Challa, made it harder to understand why she refused to aid Nakia and Ramonda. However the more I thought about it, the more sense it made and when you put her alongside W’Kabi it definitely becomes clearer. W’Kabi followed N’Jadaka because of his lack of faith in T’Challa and was willing to fight for the Black Panther (AKA Killmonger), rather than the good of Wakanda, whereas Okoye followed N’Jadaka because she felt loyalty to Wakanda and the throne but, turned on him because in the end, N’Jadaka’s vision was not for the good of Wakanda.

M’Baku was my second favourite character. I think his character both plays to and also defies film clichés. Sure he refuses to aid T’Challa and then makes a big third act appearance, but I think the movie did a good job of justifying the perspective of the Jabari and you do get the sense that M’Baku understands that T’Challa is going to be a very different king than those that came before. We do get some comedic moments from M’Baku, which were entertainingly awkward which is exactly how they should have felt like the stakes are so high and M’Baku cracks jokes because he knows that he holds the position of power in the conversation. That was the thing I loved about him as a character, we see him in a position of weakness and from a position of strength and you do feel as if his position is justified. Like he values respect and honour, and seeks the same for his people and I think there’s some level where he realises that T’Challa is the one to make the changes in Wakanda that he wants to see. It’s also cool to see variation in culture within Wakanda, like the Jabari have a certain idea of how Wakanda should hold it’s traditions.

The life of a monarch is not an easy one and T’Challa having to face the actions and decisions of past kings to decide how Wakanda progresses into the future, drives the film. Even before N’Jadaka resurfaces I think T’Challa would have become a force for change in Wakanda anyway but I think the revelations of his father’s actions and the past kings to preserve Wakanda’s isolation, really shape how he is going to rule. One thing I’ve noticed people asking, was why T’Challa didn’t simply turn away N’Jadaka’s challenge and I think this is the first moment where we see T’Challa’s desire to be different from past kings, despite knowing his cousin’s history, he wishes to atone for his fathers mistake and face the “monster” that was created, that for me was probably the most powerful moment in the film, where we see that T’Challa is going to be a king unlikely any that came before. The other way in which I saw this was his confrontation of N’Jadaka after he returns from the Jabari lands, we see that T”Challa agrees that Wakanda has to change but he simply did not believe that Wakanda arming the Diaspora and waging war on the rest of the world was the correct path to take.

I’m sorry but this is N’Jadaka/Erik Killmonger’s movie more than anything else. His story arc is that of the hero and it’s so easy to agree or empathise with his perspective of the world and Wakanda’s isolation. He offers the sharpest contrast between the two worlds, having been told of the paradise that Wakanda is, but growing up in Oakland in the 80s. I mean from a young age the things he would have seen and experience, the film opens in 1992, a year after the L.A Riots, one of the most tense racial/political landmarks in US history. Essentially what makes him a villain are his methods and his motivations. His fathers death shaped his perspective, where N’Jobu wished to give the disenfranchised in Africa and throughout the Diaspora, Wakandan technology to collapse existing power structures and rebuild much stronger societies, N’Jadaka wishes to use similar methods to arm and construct a global Wakandan empire, his motivation is steeped so heavily in rage and vengeance for the death of his father, that he has to be seen as a villain. However as mentioned before he is the best type of villain. Not one who sees themselves as a hero but one who has a very valid point about the nature of Wakanda and it’s advancement and legitimately could have been a hero. He’s fully sympathetic, and easily the most heart-breaking scene was his journey to the Ancestral Plane. I think he breaks the traditional villain formula in that his plan in effect did succeed even more so than Zemo’s. N’Jadaka is the fruit of Wakanda’s past and the seeds that he plants in his death set the framework for Wakanda’s future. I initially wanted him to survive but the more I thought about his final words, made me realise that in a sense he had to die in order for T’Challa to further change Wakanda.

I think my favourite scene was the closing one, in Oakland. When that kid talks to T’Challa. I got shivers. Firstly because in my mind it’s N’Jadaka’s son and it’s a revisit to 1992, where we see how T’Challa has changed as a ruler. But secondly that kid represents the number of black children, who see Black Panther and leave that theatre completely awestruck with a sense of pride and wonder.

Rating: 10/10

Final Thought- The strongest entry into the MCU yet. Powerful, visually stunning, thought-provoking. A dope movie in it’s entirety. Nothing feels out of place or really falls flat. Marvel has a lot ot live up to now.


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