Black Panther: Reviewed
By Lexi Vollero
Marvel is taking a new direction and clearly, it’s working for them. By the end of Black Panther you will be breathless.
The hype is real: Black Panther has been receiving mass media attention, box office ratings, and critical acclaim for good reason. Clearly, reoriented focus and goals at the film’s foundation are the reason why it’s being called “revolutionary.”
The protagonist, T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman), returns to his home country of Wakanda to assume the throne after his father’s death. Wakanda maintains the appearance of an isolated, third-world African nation, when in reality it is the world’s richest and most technologically-advanced power thanks to its abundant supply of vibranium - the world’s most powerful metal that is at the root of the Black Panther’s power. However, while ascending to the throne and assuming the powers of the Black Panther, T’Challa’s position is challenged by the American-born Wakandan Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan), which leads to a clash of strength, ideals and opinions on Wakanda’s role and obligation to the world.
The writers impressively invented fictional African tribes and represented them in a respectful, powerful way. Every accessory, tribal paint pattern and weapon was a result of thorough research that culminated into the Wakandan nation, intentionally depicted as such to avoid the possibility buying into stereotypes. After all, this depiction of an empowered, culturally-rich yet technologically-advanced nation is key to this elevation of Wakanda above the rest of the world.
Refreshingly, the American-made movie abandoned Americentrism and instead, critiqued U.S. society and its systems by making the nation “the other” through the movie’s antagonist Killmonger. The depiction of Oakland, California as the desolate “scene of the crime” where the film’s primary conflict was born in comparison to the lush, thriving depiction of Wakanda only emphasizes this device. However, one of the main (yet few) negative criticisms heard before seeing the film was the glorification of Africans and consequent relegation of African-Americans. Although it’s understandable how this conclusion can be drawn, it misses the fact that the film's premise serves as more of a critique of Americentrism, as well as an important plot device used to keep the story centered in the African continent, rather than a statement on the African Diaspora.
Visually, the film’s effects, costumes, sets, CGI, and scenery work together to tell the story in a captivating way that captures the majesty of Wakanda. Kendrick Lamar’s influence on the soundtrack was clearly audible, as the unique score's combination of trap beats and African drums drove the movie from start to finish. However, the most prominent element that distinguished Black Panther from your typical “kick-and-punch” superhero film is the way it tackled current social issues, supporting the ideals of feminism and black power while implicitly criticizing isolationist international policy (*cough, cough* President Trump). The skillful intertwining of these stances with the movie’s narrative is insightful and thought-provoking, without ever feeling out-of-place or obnoxious. It is this masterful blend of contemporary politics and the exhilaration of a great superhero movie that makes Black Panther such a great film.