“Black Panther’s” strengths revel in its importance.
It’s the moment when the camera penetrates the fake, holographic mountainside, and we see the vast, technologically advanced yet naturalistically beautiful African nation of Wakanda.
It’s the moment we discover the tragic back-story behind the antagonist and how it connects to something very real for a lot of people of color. It’s all of the moments when the all-women militaristic Wakandan Royal Guard, the Dora Milaje, show the power of both physical strength and femininity. And, of course, it’s the moment when T’Challa, a man of African descent, the Black Panther and King of Wakanda, slips on that mask and becomes a super hero.
It shouldn’t have taken this long, but it can never be too late.
It’s incredibly difficult to ignore the societal and cultural impact that this film has, and when those moments that represent this importance are on display, “Black Panther” really can deliver something special.
While the film definitely allows T’Challa (wonderfully portrayed by Chadwick Boseman) to show off his own finesse, “Black Panther” decides to take it one step further and really double down on the idea of representing the underrepresented. Surprisingly enough, this comes through with the film’s portrayal of its African American women much more so than its men.
African American women are some of the most marginalized people in American society. This is due to various amounts of socio-political nuance that I wouldn’t dare dissect, but it’s true nonetheless.
T’Challa is clearly a strong, level-headed individual. He has clear goals, ambition to pursue those goals, strong leadership skills and an enjoyably laid-back personality. These traits, among his other positive traits, are all due to the amazing black women in T’Challa’s life.
His mother shows him guidance and compassion after the passing of his father. His love interest allows him to understand what it means to truly care for one’s people and additionally how one even defines “one’s people.”
The general of his army, and leader of the Dora Milaje, teaches T’Challa discipline, loyalty and intuition.
Most importantly, his younger sister not only fills T’Challa with purpose but also is integral to the creation of all of the cool gadgets and tech that makes Black Panther as overpowered as he is. In most films like this, the sister character would be relegated to a lesser role, but here, the film wouldn’t even exist without her, as she is very much the peddler of deus ex machina devices.
Despite all of these wonderful, truly genuine moments between these characters, it’s still a Marvel film after all.
It was probably foolish to expect something as outside of the box as Marvel’s previous film “Thor: Ragnarok,” but I was not expecting a plot as standard as the one in “Black Panther.”
The tried and true hero-must-learn-stuff-and-prove-self-then-fight-evil-version-of-himself storyline is just as uninspired here as it was in “Ant-Man” and “Doctor Strange” and “Iron Man” and “Captain America” and … yeah, you get what I’m doing here.
This, disappointingly enough, has a lot to do with T’Challa as a character. The conflict within him seems to be learning to lead without his father there, but from the beginning, he inherently feels like the stoic, calm leader that he should have grown to become by the end of the movie.
This isn’t to say he has no arc. It’s only that this arc is basic and shallow, especially when compared to the antagonist of the film, Michael B. Jordan’s Killmonger. If there is anything that should be applauded, it is the way in which this character was handled. He’s intimidating and determined. His plot of revenge not only makes sense but is devastatingly relatable, making him the most empathetic villain in MCU history, even if his message could lead to a lot of very confused reads of the film.
Some of these faults will be seen as troubling, but it can’t distract from the broader importance of the film. I am not of African descent myself, but I viewed this film with a predominantly black audience, and at the end of the film, there was applause.
That is something that has never happened for an MCU film that I’ve seen opening night at the GDX here in Saginaw.
I think that says enough.