Unlike other Marvel films, Black Panther’s premise isn’t convoluted or confusing. The fluid storytelling helps, but it also does away with aliens and paint-by-numbers villains. It doesn’t require any esoteric knowledge or a following of every previous Marvel movie up until this point. In fact, you barely remember that it’s part of that universe at all.
The story follows the African nation of Wakanda and its heir to the throne, T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman). Wakanda is thought to be a third world country by the rest of the world, but it secretly has an infinite supply of the metal called Vibranium. Vibranium can cure disease, supply unlimited energy, and is used to make indestructible armor and the most powerful weapons you could ever imagine. T’Challa’s conflict is whether or not to share this technology with the rest of the world to help them. Will the world use it peacefully, like the people of Wakanda? Or will they abuse its power, invoking greed?
Boseman does an excellent job as the title character, proving once again that he’s one of the most reliably consistent actors in Hollywood. He carries the film well, showing us both earnestness and pride. There may not be anyone else who could have done this convincingly, properly giving us as good of a character transformation as he has.
On the other side of T’Challa is Killmonger, an Oakland-born villain who knows of Wakanda’s Vibranium and thinks it should be used to help the oppressed conquer their oppressors. Killmonger comes from the streets and has turned his frustrations into violence–like many do–but this time, he has somewhat of an “in”.
You get where he’s coming from and agree that Vibranium should be used to help people, but don’t necessarily like his violent approach to getting it done. In fact, T’Challa gets it too. The hero and the villain have the same end goal, but their way of going about it is just different. One is a tyrant while the other is a compassionate leader.
Killmonger is one of the most intriguing Marvel villains to date. He and X-Men’s Magneto. We dislike them, yet are given empathy for them. Killmonger is willing to sacrifice everything, including people he loves, for his beliefs, while the Wakandans are willing to sacrifice beliefs and morals for their own country. It’s subtle, but extremely poignant.
Wakanda has a lie that’s gotten out of hand. Like any big and necessary change, there needs to be conflict and civil disagreement beforehand. And that’s what happens here. Some serve their nation because of their own personal obligation, while others see that this is about much more than that. It’s about serving the greater good.
As far as surface-level stuff, Black Panther isn’t entirely unflawed. Other than a cool car chase sequence towards the beginning, the action scenes are lacking a bit of originality. However, the score by composer Ludwig Goransson and its utilization by director Ryan Coogler makes them feel epic. The whole movie has this feel. Maybe more than any other in this cinematic universe. And that’s with the subpar action.
The film is so nuanced. It helps that it has a director rooted in the independent film world. Coogler conducts the drama on the same level as the best we’ve ever seen in an action film. He knows how to build conflict and tension, and how to make the audience think. A little food for though is always good.