The eighteenth film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe sees Chadwick Boseman reprising his role as T’Challa/Black Panther first seen in Captain America: Civil War. In this film we head to Wakanda, a country the world sees as being ravaged by poverty but the truth is very different. Andy Sirkis and Martin Freeman also star reprising their roles as Ulysses Klaue from Avengers: Age of Ultron and Agent Everett K. Ross from Captain America: Civil War respectively.
The Black Panther was not a character that I was personally familiar with as my experience with Marvel characters tended to revolve around Spider-Man with my fondness for The Animated Series and Spectacular Spider-Man being on record. In The Animated Series I saw characters such as Blade, the Punisher, the Fantastic Four, Iron Man, and so on. Many of these characters went on to have their own stand alone films, but the Black Panther never appeared and so I knew nothing about him.
The mysterious figure that attempted to apprehend Bucky Barnes after he murdered Wakanda’s King turned out to be none-other than the King’s son T’Challa. Whilst he was not the focus of Civil War he quickly established himself as a competent fighter that had some superpowers to back up his fancy vibranium suit.
Now before I go any further let me address a potentially sensitive point, this film has been getting high praise and there is a view that no one dares to pick holes in it for fear of being called a racist. Now being an alien that comes from a planet in which there are so many variations of skin type, race and colour the concept of racism wasn’t something that I had any understanding about until I arrived on this planet.
Segregating people because of the colour of their skin is such an archaic concept that I could not believe there was anywhere left in the galaxy where such ideologies not just exist, but continue to exist to this day. Now that isn’t the time for a debate on different races or ethnicities because my society is far from perfect considering it is based on conquering other people before incorporating those willing into the Grand Seniority’s service and enslaving or exterminating those who resist. The point that I am trying to make is that I will give this film my honest opinion and that opinion is not based on the skin colour it is based on the film itself.
Right, so now that is out of the way, what is happening in Black Panther??
We start with something of a flashback and a voice over explaining that centuries ago an asteroid made of pure vibranium (the stuff Captain America’s shield is made from) crashed into the content of Africa and affected everything around it. Five tribes went to war over the asteroid but over time four of them united together whilst the fifth chose to separate. The four tribes form the country of Wakanda. Since that time the Wakandan people have been using the vibranium to develop advanced technology, medicines and even use aspects of the substance which leached into the soil to grow “heart-shaped” plants that give the person who drinks them (after mashing them up into a liquid) the power of the “Black Panther” the guardian of the Wakandan people. The rest of the world remained blissfully unaware of Wakanda’s advances because they created a shield around themselves which gives the appearance of dense and inaccessible jungle. As far as every other nation is concerned Wakanda is a third-world country that has little to offer the rest of the globe.
Still with me…??
Excellent, now in 1992 King T’Chaka visits his brother, N’Jobu who is working undercover in California because he believes that N’Jobu is working with arms dealer Klaue to steal Wakanda’s vibranium. N’Jobu’s friend reveals himself to also be working undercover to spy on N’Jobu and is a Wakandan named Zuri that confirms T’Chaka’s suspicions.
Now in the present day following the death of his father in Civil War T’Challa is returning home to officially be crowned King of Wakanda. His coronation ceremony involves him being stripped of the powers of the Black Panther and facing anyone who may challenge his rite to the throne. A representative of Jabari Tribe (the tribe that split from the other four) N’Baku challenges for the throne and T’Challa fights him in ritual combat. The rules of the combat mean that battle only ends when one of the combatants either yields or dies. T’Challa is victorious as N’Baku yields and has his powers as the Black Panther restored after drinking the “heart-shaped herb” once more. He returns to his home and takes his place on the throne of Wakanda.
Meanwhile Klaue, and his associate Erik Stevens steal a Wakandan artefact from a British Museum which they plan to sell on the Black Market.
After hearing of the theft T’Challa’s friend W’Kabi urges the new King to apprehend Klaue and bring him back to face justice for his crimes against Wakanda. Not capturing Klaue was always considered a failing of King T’Chaka and W’Kabi has a personal grudge against the arms dealer who murdered his parents in cold blood.
After learning the artefact is due to be sold in Busan, South Korea T’Challa, one of his best warriors Okoya (Danai Gurira) and his former lover Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o) head to the location of the exchange. Here they meet CIA Agent Ross who was the person Klaue was going to sell the artefact to. The deal goes sour with a fire fight erupting, and during a chase through the city in which T’Challa assumes his guise as Black Panther, Klaue is captured. However he is taken into CIA custody. T’Challa clashes with Ross over who should get custody of Klaue and Ross informs T’Challa that keeping his identity as the Black Panther secret was not easy. Plus the new King of Wakanda doesn’t have the jurisdiction to take possession of Klaue from the CIA.
Stevens breaks Klaue out of custody and Ross is badly injured saving Nakia, so T’Challa decides to take him back to Wakanda so their science can heal his injuries and save his life. Upon their return W’Kabi is not happy to learn Klaue has escaped them yet again and his faith in T’Challa’s ability to be King is severely challenged.
Meanwhile Steven’s past is revealed and to T’Challa’s shock the former Black-Op nicknamed “Killmonger” comes to Wakanda to challenge its current King for the throne…
The first point that I needs to be made is that of the Marvel films Black Panther is probably the least Marvel film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe…and if you are sitting comfortably I shall tell you why.
The story is not about fighting huge evils or the fate of the world hanging in the balance it is about T’Challa taking up the mantle of the Black Panther and a challenger coming out of the woodwork who thinks that Wakanda needs to be run “correctly”.
Wakanda is basically an economic superpower and the vibranium has given them advanced technology, and medicines. However instead of using this formidable power the Wakandan Monarch has been content to sit behind their shield and allow millions of people of African descent to be persecuted. In the wider world the brothers and sisters of the Wakandan people have been used a slaves, killed without hesitation, and treated as second-class citizens…
I need to drop this before I say anymore…
Stevens turns out to be N’Jobu’s son and after T’Chaka confronted him about stealing vibranium a scuffle resulted in N’Jobu’s death. However instead of bringing N’Jobu’s child home, T’Chaka left him where he was to fend for himself. As a result Stevens (who’s Wakanda name is N’Jakada) has witnessed the atrocities being committed against his people the world over.
He wants to take over the throne of Wakanda in order to arm his brothers and sisters so they can overthrow the people that have been oppressing them for centuries. It turns out that Wakanda has spies everywhere that would take up the fight if their King demands it of them.
When N’Jakada arrives in Wakanda it is only T’Challa who knows of his lineage, so when Wakanda’s lost son returns his challenge to the throne could have been denied but T’Challa doesn’t do that. He is struggling with the truth that his father left this innocent child alone rather then bring him home and reveal to his people that N’Jobu turned traitor. When they battle N’Jakada is the better warrior and following T’Challa’s defeat and apparent death, N’Jakada becomes the new ruler of Wakanda with its people bound to serve him to matter how radical his policies.
What makes N’Jakada so interesting is that he has legitimate points, to safeguard Wakanda’s true powers its Kings have allowed countless African descendants to be enslaved or killed. When someone had a full stomach, a comfortable bed, and a roof over their head it is very easy to overlook the suffering of people who struggle to even feed themselves. N’Jakada is seeking to cause mayhem across the world but it isn’t for the sake of wiping out humanity, nor is he out for revenge against someone who wronged him. He has no personal vendetta against T’Challa, he is simply the one currently sitting on the throne, so he is an obstacle to be removed.
Chadwick Boseman handles the centre stage very well, he is everything a King should be, patient, sympathetic, and strong but he is also just a man. When the powers of the Black Panther are removed he is beaten by the strength of a superior fighter. Joining him we have the likes of strong stars like Angela Bassett and Forest Whitaker who have the roles of his mother Ramonda and (the older) Zuri respectively. The supporting cast especially Michael B. Jordan as N’Jakada are also entertaining to watch. Letitia Wright give some comedic elements to the film as T’Challa’s younger sister and the tech-head who develops numerous other applications of the vibranium, and develops other versions of the Black Panther suit. Andy Serkis also seems to be having fun in a role which he doesn’t have to be doing motion-capture for so he can be reconstructed as an ape or whatever later.
What is a little bit of a stretch for me is the idea that vibranium seems to be able to be used for anything and everything. It is sewn into Black Panther’s outfit giving it huge strength plus making it bulletproof and it is mentioned that they put it in other clothing too. There is a car that is made of it at one point, not to mention spears and numerous vehicles. Okay, so vibranium isn’t a naturally occurring substance so it is plausible that it could be used for everything but it did start to reminding me a bit of the Force in Star Wars as it is used to cover up any questions about the technology (os the universe in Star Wars’ case). The entire Black Panther costume can be hidden in a necklace…er…how?? Vibranium can do that…oh okay. Controlling a vehicle from potentially half a world away with electronics…again…how?? Vibranium. Ah, right…so how can…??? Its Vibranium okay, the answer is always going to be because it is vibranium and so that can be done, end of discussion.
It did make me wonder though, if vibranium is available in abundance in Wakanda in the upcoming Infinity War does this mean in the future Iron Man’s suit will be made of vibranium? Or Spider-Man’s outfit? What about making a new Hammer for Thor out of it? Surely all of the Avenger’s equipment could be rebuilt or reconstructed or enhanced using Vibranium leading to the Avenger’s becoming practically invincible?? There is a mid-credits scene in which T’Challa implies that he is going to reveal the truth about Wakanda to the world so what is to stop all the best stuff being made from vibranium??
Another flaw for me was the fact that up to this point Stark is the one that has the best toys, but now it seems that all of his technology would be easily outclassed by the stuff the Wakandan people have. It adds further fuel to the argument that the Kings of Wakanda have been selfish individuals that are interested in their own survival alone so the rest of the world can go drown itself for all they care. Of course, this also gives N’Jakada’s argument more weight.
The film does push some of the plausibility of the technologies the Wakandan people have at their disposal but like I said in the introduction it is the most grounded of the all the Marvel Cinematic Universe film. It could easily have worked if it had been a film that dealt with a person coming to the throne of a peaceful nation and taking war to their neighbours, however the fact that it is in the MCU allows it to reach a much greater audience.
I cannot deny that I liked this film, it knew when to be funny then when to be serious and Boseman commands a strong onscreen presence who receives some excellent support from the surrounding cast. The potential of the vibranium was stretching things a bit for me because I don’t honestly see how a metal can really do everything that it is claimed to but as I said the arm-waving “it is because it is vibranium” argument is used to dismiss these questions.
So there you have it, my opinion of Black Panther, yes it is a good film, yes it is acted well with Hollywood legends like Angela Bassett and Forest Whitaker giving the film tremendous weight, but the newer faces are not outshone in their presence. Is it perfect?? No, it has flaws. T’Challa loses the fight and only comes back to challenge N’Jakada when he has had the Black Panther powers restored to him, so surely he is breaking the rules of his own regime. He lost so N’Jakada is King and T’Challa must obey him, but that doesn’t happen. The vibranium potential also stretched plausibility somewhat so whilst I am happy to give this film a Thumbs Up, there are a few issues with it.
7/10 – A very strong edition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe and for me the most grounded film out of all eighteen films thus far. However, it does open up a bit of a can of worms regarding the future of vibranium in the upcoming films if T’Challa did reveal the truth to the United Nations. I guess we just need to watch this space to see happens when we next reunite with Black Panther in Infinity War. By the way there is also a post-credits scene in addition to the mid-credits scene that I mentioned above.