If you’re anything like me, you’ll be getting sick of the glut of superhero movies being released at the moment. For the most part, they have clichéd plots and predictable, unoriginal characters. A collection of strong, brave and predominately male heroes will save the world from aliens or an evil genius, i.e The Avengers or Captain America. Or, like Deadpool or Guardians of the Galaxy, they are humorous but largely devoid of a meaningful message.
Black Panther is totally different. It is completely unlike any superhero film I’ve ever seen. Instead of a derivative need to save mankind, the Black Panther must save his own civilisation – a technological superpower hidden in Central Africa – from a threat it was responsible for creating. The setting is wonderfully distinct; I loved the incorporation of traditional African dance, music and culture with futuristic technology and American hip-hop. The Black Panther himself is a unique character. He is not motivated primarily by glory or women, but a desire merely to ensure the wellbeing of his own people, while safeguarding the sovereignty of the rest of human civilisation despite the terrible atrocities against Africa including imperialism and slavery.
The film seeks to rectify the fact that superhero movies are mostly male, pale and stale. But it doesn’t feel like a preachy exercise in fulfilling diversity quotas. There are no token characters, nor does anyone fulfil a stereotypical role. For instance, the Black Panther’s sister, Shuri, is a witty, intelligent character who exhibits bravery, humour and unpredictability. Her casual banter and resourcefulness are a delight, and put other films to shame for not having more sophisticated female characters. One of the villains, Klaue, was one of the only characters who lacked nuance, yet his sheer menace and gravitas still left me wanting to see more. Aside from him, Black Panther’s characters were all thoroughly original.
The politics of the film is impossible to ignore. The Black Panther is named after the Black Panthers, a black nationalist militia that campaigned for African American separatism in the United States during the civil rights movement. But intriguingly, it is not the Black Panther himself who represents black separatism in the film. Rather, it is his cousin Eric Stevens, who seeks to use the technology of Wakanda (the futuristic African nation) to wage an emancipatory war on behalf of black people around the world. The Black Panther opposes him, believing it is not the right for Wakanda to intervene in the affairs of others. A peace lover, he delivers a message of co-operation and the need to break down barriers instead of build them. If Eric Stevens represents the black separatism of the Black Panthers and Malcolm X, the Black Panther represents the conciliatory pacifism of Martin Luther King.
Black Panther does not totally diverge from the superhero genre. As you’d expect, there are some fantastic action scenes, including a superb car chase in Busan, South Korea. The film is heavily reliant on CGI to present futuristic technology and obligatory explosions. Like other Marvel films, it is partly aimed for children, so don’t expect too much gore; the romantic element of the film is also kept to a bare minimum. In this regard, the film feels too good for the genre. Were Black Panther not made by Marvel, the action scenes could be grittier and more thrilling, the politics explored in greater depth, and plot not constrained by having to appeal to children. As a Marvel fan would expect, there are end credits scenes which allude to the Black Panther’s participation in the upcoming Avengers: Infinity War. But I’m disappointed by this; Black Panther is too special to be relegated as merely another prelude for a battle against a purple alien.
Nevertheless, Black Panther is an absolute must-see, for superhero fans and those more sceptical of the genre. The film works wonderfully as a stand-alone feature. The plot is thoughtful, the script is cleaver, the setting is majestic, and the music is simply sublime. But try not to remember you are watching a Marvel film. As soon as you start placing the story in the wider context of infinity stones, talking racoons and other Marvel-associated trivialities, the unique achievements of the film are cast aside.
– Owen Bell
Featured image source: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1825683/mediaviewer/rm172972800