‘Black Panther’ breaks boundaries


Madeline Deabler
“Black Panther” is the latest installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Ten years ago, “Iron Man” soared into theaters on a wave of jet fuel and sarcasm, kick-starting the Marvel Cinematic Universe into the worldwide behemoth it is today. Now, 18 films later, we have “Black Panther.”

While the character was first introduced in 2016’s “Captain America: Civil War,” “Black Panther” is his stand-alone entry into this massive universe, one that is swaggering and confident and ultimately, still a Marvel movie — for better or worse.

Taking place in Civil War’s shadow, but never fully tied to any specific previous Marvel movie — one of the film’s many strengths — “Black Panther” re-introduces T’Challa, the regal king of Wakanda and Avenger apparent.

After playing his part in Civil War, he returns back to Wakanda to accept the title of king. Wakanda is an Afro-futuristic dream made reality: a place where the development of technology has been rapidly accelerated due to the large deposit of Vibranium it was founded upon. Splashed with bright and bold colors while still possessing the hard edge of technological advancement, Wakanda is a wonder to behold. The world-building alone in this film is worth the admission, as director Ryan Coogler’s (Creed) singular vision of Wakanda is assured and confident and unapologetically alive.

All of this is buffered by the excellent ensemble cast that populates this vision, as Chadwick Boseman’s T’Challa is both strong and conflicted, with Boseman’s visage radiating strength and (somewhat paradoxically) vulnerability. He is surrounded by both his sister Shuri (Letitia Wright), who is a tech-wizard; Okoye (Danai Gurira), his royal bodyguard; and a recurring role from Martin Freeman as Agent Ross, with each of these actors bringing the right mixture of humor and a sense of steadfastness to their role.

Marvel has had a villain problem in its movies for some time now, with an up-tick in quality beginning with “Spider-Man: Homecoming’s” Vulture. “Black Panther” continues that trend, catapulting it to new heights thanks to a grounded and morally resonant player in Killmonger. Michael B. Jordan excels as T’Challa’s adversary, bringing fire and brimstone to juxtapose with T’Challa’s cool and diplomatic demeanor.

Killmonger is driven and ruthless. He doesn’t come across as a megalomaniac or comic-book crazy, but instead only as doing what he thinks is morally just. The intelligent script asks some very complex questions about the nature of race, colonization and the responsibility Wakanda has to its similarly-skinned citizens around the globe.

Killmonger acts as a perfect symbol for the underside and morally reprehensible answers to those difficult questions. This is not to mention the Shakespearean shroud Coogler drapes across the film’s broad shoulders — familial murder and betrayal and the eternal struggle for power best personified through thrones and crowns.

Yet, this is still a Marvel movie. As independent as it may act, the film still serves a higher power, and the typical Marvel structure rears its ugly head soon enough. The third act takes all of the interesting questions the first two acts posed and resolves them in typical Marvel fashion: with a CGI-filled spectacle.

Coogler’s script pushes back against these constraints ever so slightly, still finding a way to humanize his main players during this conclusion, but the overwhelming Marvel presence is still present. Further still is the notion that these films are becoming predictable — something that is obviously beneficial for investors, but detrimental for audiences. It’s a bridge that the Marvel machine will eventually have to cross, but for now, 18 films in, I’m glad to see that there are still significant pieces of Marvel movies that can still surprise me.