‘Black Panther’: The best standalone Marvel film since ‘Iron Man’

Black+Panther%3A+The+best+standalone+Marvel+film+since+Iron+Man

Jacob Sykuta

[dropcap style=”flat” size=”4″]U[/dropcap]ntil now, whether they hail from either DC or the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), big-screen superheroes have traditionally been white men. Either having been created by the United States military, or having been “put on this earth,” such as Superman and Thor, these superheroes intentions are to defend America from its enemies. Co-written and directed by Ryan Coogler, “Black Panther” is a radically different kind of comic-book movie, featuring a nearly all African American cast, that largely ignores the United States and focuses instead on the fictional nation of Wakanda. Virtually everything that distinguishes “Black Panther” from past Marvel pics works to this standalone entry’s advantage.
Coogler makes good on the film’s potential by featuring a predominantly African American ensemble, casting some of the best young actors around, from Chadwick Boseman to Michael B. Jordan (acting in the director’s two previous films, “Fruitvale Station” and “Creed”). Additionally, Coogler casts acting legends such as Forest Whitaker and Angela Bassett. The film not only holds its own, but improves on the formula in several key respects, from a politically engaged villain to an emotionally grounded final showdown.
Opening in the mythical kingdom of Wakanda, without disparaging the rest of Africa, Coogler and his crew suggest what the continent might have become had it never been stripped of its resources — and had those resources included a highly advanced technology and energy source. Hidden from the world, Wakanda is home to the world’s most technologically advanced city, protected by a ruler with special powers and a fearsome black panther costume.
Of course, Wakanda doesn’t really exist, but because Europeans exploited the continent of so many resources, the full extent of what Africa could have taught the world is unknown. It’s no wonder that Wakandans refer to white people as “colonizers.” As Prince T’Challa, Boseman plays the latest Wakandan leader to put on the catsuit, a matte-black onesie that receives a nice upgrade courtesy of his tech-savvy sister, Shuri (Letitia Wright).
Being the prince of a utopian city, T’Challa has little interest in the fate of the world beyond his borders — until his father, King T’Chaka (John Kani), is assassinated during a bombing at the Vienna International Centre—a flashback to “Captain America: Civil War”. Although the Black Panther made his impressive debut in that film, he is one and the same as the character seen in his solo film. The difference, however, is that Coogler humanizes him to such a degree that T’Challa doesn’t feel like a superhero so much as a deeply conflicted world leader — even with the brutal hand-to-hand blood matches that ensue.
Wakanda owes its utopian and technologically advanced status to a precious extraterrestrial resource called vibranium that the rest of the world yearns for. Halfway around the world, an MIT-educated former black-ops soldier named Erik Killmonger (Jordan) waltzes into a museum and steals a misidentified Wakandan relic.
Because Black Panther’s skills seem to rely more on gadgets than fantastical powers, his standalone Marvel outing diverts from the typical superhero movie, creating a James Bond esque aspect at times. Accompanied by two spear-wielding warriors General Okoye (Danai Gurira) and Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o), a tuxedo-clad T’Challa attempts to go incognito while South African gunrunner Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis) makes ready to pass the pilfered treasure to an undercover CIA agent (Martin Freeman).
Rather than simply concocting another generic plan to save the world from annihilation, Coogler revives the age-old debate between peaceful resistance and militant activism. Since you can’t have a nonviolent action hero, however, this debate puts T’Challa in a strange position. T’Challa’s independent-minded ex-girlfriend Nakia (Nyong’o) has ambitious ideas about how Wakanda could help the rest of the world — which means it’s up to her to spark his engagement with the outside world.
Ultimately, “Black Panther” is a fantastic film and addition to the MCU. The cast is astonishingly solid throughout the movie, helping to create a Marvel character origin story film whose villains aren’t instantly forgettable and that has surrounding characters that aren’t just the briefest of shallow sketches. “Black Panther” is one of Marvel’s most all-around appealing standalone installments since “Iron Man.”