Director Ryan Coogler, most-known for directing Creed and Fruitvale Station, crafts a well-driven and colorful adaptation of the not-so-famous Marvel superhero: The Black Panther.
The movie opens like most, with a flashback to a certain moment in time that will slowly be revealed to not only the main character but as well as the audience in due time. It is not where the story starts that is important; it is the message that the scene carries. It is late 1980’s California where a middle-aged T’Chaka (T’Challa’s father, the former King of Wakanda) is visiting his brother. His brother is caught taking vibranium from Wakanda and selling it to T’Chaka’s enemy, Klaw. T’Chaka questions why his brother, of all people, would steal from his own people. His brother states that the reason he stole that vibranium was so that he could aid their people (he’s referring to African Americans not in just Africa, but around the world) and stop the oppression that they face every single day. This ideal goes against the Wakandian way, the way that T’Chaka and the other kings before him fought for. They wish to keep Wakanda a secret in order to protect their own people. When his brother cries out in anger, he charges T’Chaka. However, T’Chaka is the one that strikes first, killing his own brother to protect the Wakandian way. This ideal is what sets up the entire movie.
Fast forward to present day, and T’Challa is seen watching a news broadcast covering his father’s death from Civil War. He goes out on a mission to find his ex, the infamous Nakia, so that she may honor T’Challa’s father and watch as T’Challa is crowned king. Nakia was currently on a special-ops mission, trying to save local African women from being kidnapped and sold. We find out that Nakia also wishes that Wakanda would open its doors to refugees and provide aid to fellow Africans who need their help. T’Challa rebuttals, acknowledging the idea that his father, T’Chaka, held on to so dearly.
This idea is shared between many Wakandians and is the main conflict that T’Challa must tackle as newly-crowned King. Should Wakanda open its doors, uncovering itself from the blanket that has hidden Wakanda’s secrets from the rest of the world for so long? This is where Erik Killmonger, the main villain of Black Panther comes in.
Killmonger, the son of T’Chaka’s brother, was abandoned the same night that T’Chaka murdered his brother. Killmonger, bearing the infamous Wakanda tattoo on the bottom of his lower lip, has full right to walk right into Wakanda. His father taught him about Wakanda and told him that he would show Killmonger the most beautiful sunsets that any human has laid eyes on. Killmonger uses Klaw to get to Wakanda, killing him to gain access and win over the trust of one of the Wakandian tribe leaders.
Killmonger’s cause is completely just. He wishes to take over T’Challa’s place as King, and use Wakanda’s resources to take over the rest of the world in order to save his people, Wakanda’s people, but more importantly– Africa’s people. He wants to take vibranium weapons and arm Wakandian spies across the world in order to topple governments and finally show the world what Wakanda is truly capable of. Growing up on the streets of urban California, Killmonger knows exactly what his people went through just to be able to survive. How they were oppressed, enslaved, and murdered in cold-blood. He wants to right this world’s wrongdoing. The best part of his cause is that you believe him. His cause is just, but the way that he is going about it is entirely wrong. This is why Killmonger is Marvel’s best villain. His cause is understandable, and he will not stop until that cause, that mission, is fulfilled. He challenges T’Challa to a ritual duel to become King and wins, sending T’Challa over the cliff and into the barreling river below.
In the final act, T’Challa wages war against Killmonger. The Royal Guard fights to serve the rightful king, even after proclaiming that the Guard will only serve the Throne. Yet the General (who is the most badass character, let’s be real here. She’s the best warrior Wakanda has, including both Killmonger and T’Challa) fights to protect the true King, T’Challa. The final is brilliantly woven together, containing an enormous fight scene between the different Wakandian tribes. It is truly a beautiful sight to behold. Killmonger and T’Challa fall into the mountain of vibranium for one last fight. As they fight on top of a “hover-train railway” (Yeah, that’s a thing. It’s badass), T’Challa successfully pulls off a “cool final blow” to Killmonger, stabbing him with his own spear. T’Challa then drags Killmonger to the side of the vibranium mountain, exiting the giant Panther statue-like entrance.
Here, Cooger delivers the most powerful scene of the entire movie. Looking out at a beautiful sunset, Killmonger tells T’Challa that this is the sunset his father had always wanted to show him. T’Challa contemplates saving Killmonger, but when he brings up how T’Challa could easily heal him, Killmonger says this:
“Why? So you can just lock me up? No, bury me in the ocean. That way, I can be with my ancestors. My ancestors who sailed on the ships, who jumped into the ocean because they’d rather have death than live in bondage–,”. Killmonger then grabs the spear and rips it out of his chest, killing him instantly.
This, this is the most important quote in the entire movie. It speaks so many volumes because he’d rather die than be exiled and left to die in prison cell like so many other African men are forced to do today. The cause is just.
There are still so many things to mention. All of the female characters are so well-developed and perfectly crafted. Okoye shines as the General of the Royal Guard. There is no moment where she is not completely and 100% badass. Nakia, lead-warrior for one of the Wakandian tribes and former lover of T’Challa, is beautifully written. The romance between T’Challa and Nakia does not at all feel forced but instead embraced.
Cooger beautifully crafts the world of Wakanda, bringing together five Wakandian tribes that each have their own culture and traditions they live by. Wakanda fills like a vibrant and colorful world that can fully stand on its own. The rich technology that Wakanda built using the most powerful metal known to man, vibranium, is magnificent and awesome to gaze in awe at. All the different colors, whether it be the clothing that the Wakandians wear, or the colors of Wakanda itself shine majestically. I’m still in awe.
The action scenes (noticeably without ANY slow-mo sequences) are well-choreographed and feel so complex and realistic at the same time. It is such an amazing sight to marvel at when T’Challa gracefully hops from one cr to the next in a fast-paced car chase in downtown South Korea. I must say, every location that Black Panther visits feels alive and vibrant, just like Wakanda. There’s never a dull moment in any scene. The movie is well-paced and well edited.
There was never a moment in the movie where I was stuck thinking that “Hey, this could use some fixing or differently editing” or “Hey, that line could have been constructed differently”. Everything, top to bottom, was perfect. That’s why, Black Panther, gets 10/10 stars from me. Please, I beg of you, go see this movie. It is a celebration of culture and cinematography that you will not want to miss.
Black Panther – 10/10