By Marc S. Sanders
Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther is a stand out film among what has become an overpopulated Marvel Cinematic Universe.
It is a super hero film for sure, complete with the standard gadgets, super strength and abilities, action and over the top science fiction. Yet, this film did not have to be a superhero narrative to drive home the message of its story. This could have been an Oliver Stone film rooted in political quagmire. It could have been a John Hughes teen rip off film that takes place in a typical Wasp suburban school.
A question embraces this film. Simply, when is it appropriate to share?
Chadwick Boseman plays the title character also known as T’Challa, and following the recent death of his father he becomes the next king of the fictional African based country of Wakanda, a location hidden from the rest of the world so that no one else can take advantage of its most precious resource, Vibranium, which has allowed for the most sophisticated technology, weaponry and even medical advancements ever known. How it’s all lumped together, who knows? Pick up a Marvel Comics Encyclopedia for that answer. T’Challa is tasked with whether it is a moral obligation to share the resource with the rest of the world. However, if it is provided, will the Vibranium be taken advantage of for nefarious purposes?
(SIDE NOTE: Reviewing all of these Marvel films is getting to be trying, as I feel resorted to using the same terminology some times; words and phrases like “hero,” “villain,” “nefarious purposes” and “also known as.”)
His nemesis is Eric Killmonger played by Michael B. Jordan; this guy is going to get an Oscar one day. Killmonger is an educated, skilled soldier and cousin to T’Challa who was abandoned by Wakanda following his own father’s betrayal of the country. He grew up in the projects of Oakland, California. Killmonger returns to Wakanda with the purpose of becoming king and allowing the tech and resources Wakanda possesses to be used by the outside world, particularly by populations of African descent and people of color who have endured a history of suffering. Once again, Marvel Studios scores with a villain you want to root for and endorse. Just like Jeff Bridges’ Obidiah Stane in the first Iron Man film, you have to recognize the stance that Killmonger holds on his side of argument. That’s great writing. It’s not so much that Killmonger is a slaughterer. He really isn’t at all. Once he overthrows the hero, the mission is only just beginning as he wishes to right the wrongs of Wakanda for never providing in the first place. It’s ironic really. This guy sides on the fact that he doesn’t want a wall, while the protagonist is doing all he can to maintain a divider to the outside world. In 2018, was there another film that really reflected the sign of the times so succinctly?
Coogler makes a beautiful sweeping film of country and special effects. The Wakandan ships are very cool. Overhead shots of Africa and the camp bases of various tribes are astonishing. One particular tribe resides on a winter like mountainside and the leaders room is spectaculary decorated in horizontal lumber hangings. T’Challa’s staff of mostly female combat warriors and scientists led by Lupita Nyong’o are really exciting. At times the film takes inspiration from some of the best standards of the James Bond films, as his sister introduces her latest inventions for the Black Panther suit. Naturally, the Black Panther costumes are stand outs in the film, black with glowing power enhancements of purples and yellows.
Is Black Panther worthy of a Best Picture nomination and an abundance of awards attention? I’m still not sure. It’s a very strong piece that is light years ahead of any DC Universe film, but it has great characters and messages like most of the Marvel films and even some of the more recent Bond films featuring Daniel Craig. Maybe it is one of the best films of they year, and maybe it should be a Best Picture nominee, but perhaps only because 2018 did not offer a wealth of extraordinary film achievements to begin with. I found merits in all of the 8 Best Picture nominees in this particular year, but I also found problems with many of them too (don’t get me started on A Star Is Born); shortcomings that in another year with better films would keep many of these nominees from ever being considered for the grand prize.
Yet, as I document these thoughts, I think about Black Panther again. Truly, it does not have anything negative in its feature. Ryan Coogler directed and wrote a very focused and thought provoking film. Yup! It was truly one of the year’s best films.