Category: Movies

Black Panther Review: What Makes Marvel’s New Movie So Engaging

Black Panther Review: What Makes Marvel’s New Movie So Engaging

Like any Marvel movie, one would expect Black Panther to be teeming with action sequences, funny one-liners, and of course, superheroes.  One could argue that Marvel Studios has become successful because they insert those 3 things in every movie.

As moviegoers, although we expect those 3 things in a superhero movie, we also demand to see something fresh every time.  That “fresh twist” is necessary to erase any notion that Hollywood is getting complacent and is simply rehashing old material.

Last year, Marvel Studios’ offerings, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 and Thor: Ragnarok, were successful in inserting that “fresh twist.”  For the Guardians sequel, it was expanding on the clever use of music and touching upon darker themes than the first movie.  Contrastingly, Ragnarok had a lighter tone than the previous Thor films, which was a pleasant change.

Black Panther stands out because of its infusion of African traditions and strong characters.  It appeals to the audience’s curiosity and the movie is even more poignant given its release during Black History Month.

Creating Wakanda: African Elements that are Prevalent in Black Panther

While the country of Wakanda is fictional, it feels real because of how much the filmmakers drew from real life.

The Importance of Fashion

Even outside the realm of movies, pieces of clothing and various accessories help tell someone’s story.   For instance, you may know that Belle in Beauty and the Beast was the only one wearing blue in the opening scene.  Her clothes emphasize to the audience that Belle is the odd one in town.

If you’re like me, the most notable accessories were the large piercings. The large piercings or “lip plates” are “drawn from the culture of the Mursi in Ethiopia… [and are] a source of pride and identity.”

The piercings are just one example of how fashion plays an important role in Black Panther.  For more about the specific influences on Wakandan fashion, I recommend Quartz’s article, “Marvel’s ‘Black Panther’ is a broad mix of African cultures-here are some of them.”

SPOILER WARNING.  In the next sections, I will be getting more specific about what happens in Black Panther.  If you haven’t watched the movie yet, I would recommend doing so before reading the rest of the review.

The Importance of a Proper Burial

            Upon watching Black Panther, you may have noticed the line, “We didn’t even get to bury him.”  That line got me wondering how significant a proper burial is in African culture.

According to the article “African Cultural Concept of Death and the Idea of Advance Care Directives,” “With the belief that the goal of life is to become an ancestor after death, a person is given a proper burial after death as failure to do this may result in the individual becoming a wandering ghost.”  Therefore, the idea that King T’Chaka may not be resting in peace is even more devastating for T’Challa, his sister Shuri, and his mother Ramonda.

How to Become the King of Wakanda

With the death of his father, T’Challa is forced to face his fate prematurely and take his place as king.  Traditionally for African tribes, the kingship is inherited, which is similar to the process of choosing a king in Wakanda.

“Ritual combat ceremonies” are also a part of African culture.  Fighting serves as a way to assert dominance or “godliness.”  Black Panther combines the ideas of “royal blood” and “ritual combat” in that the next person in line must fight anyone who challenges him to prove that he is strong enough to protect his country.  This combination isn’t new to Black Panther: it’s the main subject of both The Lion King and Madagascar 2: Escape to Africa.

I find it intriguing that T’Challa has to first strip away his superhuman powers before fighting anyone.  He is on an even playing field with any challenger.  In addition, unlike Scar in The Lion King, Erik Killmonger has more than a lust for power and wealth.  Erik wants justice for the murder of his father (by his uncle no less…more on that later).

A Note on Black Panther’s Phenomenal Characters

Turning the Concept of Gender Roles on Its Head

Strong female characters are becoming more and more common in modern cinema (just look at Star Wars: The Last Jedi).  When news hit that “Black Panther’s Sister Shuri Is ‘the Smartest Person in the World,” it was particularly impactful considering that there are geniuses like Tony Stark and Bruce Banner in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  Letitia Wright’s Shuri has been getting much deserved praise for being “the best Disney princess: she’s insanely intelligent and her dynamic with her big brother is fun to watch.

Like how Shuri isn’t “just a little sister,” Lupita N’yongo’s Nakia is not just a love interest.  Nakia is a spy, but it is not until later in the movie that the audience finds out why.  She believes that Wakanda should be doing more for the rest of Africa.  She is not satisfied with living in isolation and questions the thought that Wakandans should simply protect themselves.

The women are the ones to show the men what they could be doing better.  Nakia’s efforts open T’Challa’s eyes to outreach.  General Okoye isn’t afraid to stand up to her husband when he sides with Killmonger.  As important as it is to show strong women, it is also encouraging to see how receptive the men in Black Panther are to the women’s opinions and concerns.

The Line Between Good and Evil

“What Marvel is so clever at is that they make their heroes flawed…and their villains heroic.”-Tom Hiddleston

People appreciate both Tom Hiddleston’s Loki and Michael B. Jordan’s Erik Killmonger because the audience understands their point of view (no matter how horrific and brutal their actions are.)  It’s a testament to the actors as well as the writers and directors that the audience finds themselves being sympathetic to the “villains.”  We as the viewers are more engaged because we can’t write off characters as plain good or bad.

Erik Kain’s post on Forbes, “‘Black Panther’ Succeeds On The Strength Of Its Villain” provides great commentary on Erik Killmonger if you would like to read about this subject more in depth.

Final Thoughts before Avengers: Infinity War

Lastly, I wanted to briefly discuss Black Panther as the final Marvel movie before Avengers: Infinity War.  The trailer already revealed that the Wakandans are in on the war, but Black Panther revealed how much they have to contribute (i.e., in strength and in vibranium.)  Black Panther is so rich in story and characters alone that it makes one continue to wonder how so many superheroes can be balanced in Infinity War.  We’ll just have to wait and see.

Wakanda Forever.

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