Reaction: More Questions Than Answers In 'Marvel's Black Panther'
Feb 14, 2018
by Troy-Jeffrey Allen
Marvel Studios’ “Phase 3” has been all about the secrets and lies of the past inconveniently bubbling back up. It started with 2016’s Captain America: Civil War, which cleverly repurposed decades of comic book continuity to punctuate the head-butting between its two leads. By the end of the film’s third act, Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) discovered that the sub-sub-sub-plot of his parents’ death was linked to a secret Captain America (Chris Evans) was protecting. Later that same year in Doctor Strange, Chiwetel Ejiofor’s Mordo character was devastated to find out that his mentor, The Ancient One, had been using dark magic for immortality. 2017 brought a trifecta of disappointing personal revelations for the heroes of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Peter Quill from Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 discovered his dad was all-powerful and all-evil, Peter Parker stumbled upon the fact that his high school crush was the daughter of The Vulture in Spider-Man: Homecoming, and Thor discovered that his old man was more of a colonizer than an “All-Father” in Thor: Ragnarok. This trend all but guaranteed that 2018’s Black Panther (in theaters Friday) would likewise shatter the reality of its monarch protagonist.
Played by Chadwick Boseman (who, it must be noted, no longer strains an African accent through his teeth), King T’Challa/Black Panther comes from a line of warriors sworn to protect the throne, even if that means shunning the outside world and hoarding the kingdom’s resources. Wakanda, T’Challa’s hidden domain, sits on a meteorite that houses an alien substance called “vibranium”. Within Wakanda, this has allowed his family to be rich and prosperous for centuries. Beyond Wakanda, the world considers the country to be totally Third World. This is a point of contention for a handful of people who know the truth and view Wakanda as isolationists. In that handful is Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis, who seems eager and excited to be acting without the shroud of digital effects) and Eric Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan, who showcases enough intensity to pop a vessel), two men with greed in their hearts but for different reasons. While Klaue seems to be only interested in how much vibranium he can sell to line his pockets, Killmonger has a connection to the ore that drives his pursuit. This spells trouble for the newly-minted King T’Challa, who is initially unaware of how heavy his crown is – er, Vibranium-spiked necklace is.
Similar to Ta-Nehisi Coates recent run as writer of the Black Panther comics, the Black Panther movie forces T’Challa to face the imperfections of what he perceived to be a utopia. In the film and comics, Wakanda is a rich, technologically advanced society untouched by foreign occupation. But their clandestine ways also put the rest of the world at a supreme disadvantage. This is the movie’s most gripping plot point – the idea that Wakanda has selfishly sectioned themselves off while African-Americans had to scrounge for equality in the United States. Does Wakanda, a culture that treats ancestry as religion, owe something to their displaced “ancestors”? It’s a question that the movie can’t possibly answer, but doesn’t shy away from either.
Marvel’s Black Panther is all about identity. Throughout the film, director Ryan Coogler (Creed) and screenwriter Joe Robert Cole (American Crime Story) have characters define who T’Challa is for him or straight out ask “Who are you?” It’s brought up to the Black Panther all the way up until the end credits (and a variation is tossed at him during one of the two end credit scenes). It’s a question that has not only plagued many Marvel writers during their stint on the comic series (the title of Reginald Hudlin’s first story arc is even called “Who Is The Black Panther?”) but seems to be brewing as we follow him into Avengers: Infinity War. Given Phase 3’s dramatic upheaval of long-established characters, you have to really wonder what the Avengers will look like when they assemble this summer.
Troy-Jeffrey Allen is the Consumer Marketing Digital Editor for PREVIEWSworld.com and Diamond's pop culture network of sites. His comics work includes BAMN, Fight of the Century, and the Harvey Award-nominated District Comics