It may no longer boast that impressive 100% Rotten Tomatoes score (though 97% isn’t too bad), but Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther remains on course to be the year’s most critically acclaimed comic-book movie. It is certainly the most radical, for which other superhero flick has dared to imagine a future where the achievements of African scientists dwarf those of their western counterparts, or the denizens of troubled American ghettos turn their eyes to the land of their ancestors for foreign aid?
Moreover, Black Panther is a rollicking good ride, perhaps the most purely joyous Marvel movie since the first Guardians of the Galaxy. But what did you think of Coogler’s film? Is Chadwick Boseman’s Black Panther ready to take his place among the grand pantheon of Marvel heroes? Here’s a chance to give your verdict on the movie’s key talking points.
Marvel has never been short on out-of-this-world tech, but the futuristic nation of Wakanda makes Tony Stark’s basement look like a primary school science lab. There are mass transit networks that appear to defy gravity, dreaming city spires that reach higher than the Shard, and cloaking technologies that allow an entire nation to be concealed from the outside world. But despite being the most technically advanced nation on the planet, Wakanda remains unashamedly sub-Saharan African, with Coogler suggesting the future needn’t always be viewed through an Anglo-Saxon prism.
The fictional nation’s scientific superiority comes to the fore during a segue in which Team Wakanda heads to Seoul on a mission to take out Andy Serkis’ nefarious Ulysses Klaue. Some critics have noted with disappointment how heavily these scenes borrow from a certain suave British spy with a penchant for eccentrically mixed Martinis – Letitia Wright’s Shuri even acts as the Wakandian version of Q, walking our hero through the splendid technological weaponry available to him ahead of the trip. And yet without such moments we would lose the opportunity to see quite how advanced the guardians of vibranium have become during their long period of seclusion from the outside world. Moreover, it’s fascinating to see the traditional Bond dynamic turned on its head.
Black Panther works wonderfully as a gently mocking critique of entrenched colonialist attitudes, even if it is slightly surprising to see Michael B Jordan’s villainous Killmonger, rather than Chadwick Boseman’s T’Challa, as the character that best symbolises black anger against historic oppression. It is the former who wants to use Wakanda’s riches to fuel a worldwide black uprising. By contrast, our hero (and by extension Coogler himself), has another roadmap to revolution in mind.
Instead of reversing colonialism, the superhero makes clear in the mid-credit scene at the UN that Wakanda will use its power to reframe the conversation entirely, rejecting the use of violence as a means of redistributing wealth and looking instead to education and technology to raise up the oppressed. We can also assume that Wakandan aid, unlike its western equivalent, will be delivered without the requirement for the recipient to open up its economy to outside business interests.
DC’s Wonder Woman shifted the zeitgeist when it introduced the Amazonian warriors of Themyscira last year, but there is something even more revolutionary about Wakanda’s troop of elite, all-female royal guardians. Danai Gurira’s Okoye, their leader, resembles nothing we have seen before in superhero movies. Like Gurira’s character in The Walking Dead, Michonne, she is a symbol of warm but uncompromising black female pride and power, a destroyer of Wakanda’s enemies, who also walks a nice line in torpedoing stereotypes.
What do we think about the moment we learn that Sebastian Stan’s Winter Soldier is alive and well and living in a mud hut? A Marvel comic recently revealed that Shuri was trying to cure Steve Rogers of Hydra’s brainwashing, and it looks like she’s succeeded. What’s perhaps even more intriguing is that the local Wakandan children refer to Bucky Barnes as “White Wolf”, a character from the comics who is T’Challa’s adoptive Caucasian brother and occasional rival. The MCU version may have lost his traditional back story, but the fact Barnes has been given the famous moniker suggests he may be making more than a temporary visit to the world’s most advanced nation.
We already know Black Panther will be showing up in Avengers: Infinity War, but just how vital a player in the Marvel universe will he become going forward? In terms of Earth-based superheroes, T’Challa surely has the best chance of taking down Thanos and his minions, especially with the full might of Wakanda behind him. The nation’s emergence as an entirely new kind of world power might well turn out to be highly serendipitous, just as the planet faces its greatest threat since Ultron.
There are few clues in Black Panther as to the nature of a standalone sequel, but Coogler has gone on record to say that it might deal with the superhero’s relative inexperience as king, following the sudden death of his father during the events of Captain America: Civil War. “You know, in the comic books he’s very young when T’Chaka is killed,” Coogler told Screen Rant earlier this month. “He was kind of a guy who was a child king, you know? He got his throne when he was very young. So when you meet him you know you dealing with a guy who’s 34 years old who’s been king for a long time.
“So he has a different type of poise and confidence in his position, you know? Whereas, in our film that character is just settling in. So I’d be really interested to see, you know, what kind of king he is with experience and how that affects his performance in the stories.”