Introducing a new franchise has always been a problem for the hugely successful Marvel Cinematic Universe, which now carries 18 films. Audiences don’t always warm up to new characters immediately, sweeping through each franchise opener with the toothiest of combs. Just check out the largely forgettable Ant-Man.
It’s no surprise that Black Panther falls prey to the same rigor that its brethren experienced.
At its core, Black Panther follows a similar formula that the Marvel Cinematic Universe has grown to love. Like Thor, it introduces a new fictional kingdom for audiences to gobble up. Like Thor, it’s about a prince’s struggle to rule a kingdom under his father’s shadow. Black Panther beats to the same drums as the traditional Marvel formula.
However, Black Panther’s war drums are so vibrant and dynamic that you can’t help but praise its beat. It treads familiar ground, but it does the deed so perfectly. It’s not merely an origin story; it’s an independent film that has its own heart and message to impart.
Central to all this is the technological nation of Wakanda. Previously, the fictional kingdom was just the watchword whenever a vibranium weapon or armor is shown on-screen. Vibranium is Wakanda’s chief resource and source of all its futuristic technology.
Despite its utopian technology, Wakanda is still home to a thriving African nation. Characters adorn traditional African garb. Tribal music (sprinkled with a little modern rap) resonate through its vibranium walls. Inside, Wakanda’s holographic walls contain several tribes, each with their own identity.
Just from the setting, Black Panther deserves its own sequel. Wakanda and each of its tribes deserve more screen time.
From a story-telling perspective, Black Panther also rises beyond the realm of traditional Marvel origin stories. It’s not just about a successful guy falling from grace and working his way up again. The film shows heart and a lot more emotion than its predecessors. With a story that rivals Lion King, Black Panther shows the intricacies of monarchic government and interdependent relations. It’s a timely tale that speaks volumes in our terror-filled times.
Following the events of Civil War, T’Challa ascends the throne left behind by his deceased father, T’Chaka. Upon his coronation, T’Challa must fight detractors who don’t believe that his rule will better the nation for the future. Also, on his doorstep, black market arms dealer Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis) returns once again in pursuit of all things vibranium.
It’s a tale that refuses to be typified as another piece to Infinity War. Besides a few nods to the events of the MCU, Black Panther remains its own movie. Like Wakanda itself, Black Panther is a self-contained tale that still brings the best of the MCU to the table.
For a Marvel movie (usually plagued by forgettable baddies), Black Panther also delivers a memorable villain charged with so much emotion and gravitas. The film parts the curtain with an unhinged, Joker-esque performance by Serkis. His forces are then compounded by the renegade Wakandian, Killmonger, as played by Michael B. Jordan.
Despite their differing styles, Klaue and Killmonger follow the film’s ebb and flow remarkably well. Introducing a new villain in the middle of a movie is often an ill-advised move in the art of superhero movies. Black Panther, however, delivers a perfect one-two punch in portraying both.
Between the two, Killmonger brings an even bigger contribution to the story. Besides his villainy, his ideological motivations bring the conflict to a tight headlock. Whereas T’Challa prefers the ways of old, Killmonger wants to bring radical changes to the rule of Wakanda.
Black Panther’s ideological conflict is one that resonates even today. It harkens back to the black power movement prevalent in the ‘60s. The decade, which also spawned a “Black Panther” movement, was known for the differences between Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X, two black thought leaders who fought for black equality in differing ways. Black power is still very much alive in Black Panther’s plot. It’s a conflict that not only exemplifies post-Jim Crow era equality but applies to modern day nationalism. Even the first post-credits scene delivers a timely message that applies to our conflict-stricken era.
Black Panther is the first Marvel movie that practically begs for a sequel. It’s a stylistic depiction of the Marvel formula that I wouldn’t mind exploring for a second time.
Black Panther comes to Philippine cinemas starting today, February 14.