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"Black Panther" is a Brilliant Reinvention of the Superhero Movie Genre [Review]

In Black Panther, T'Challa (Chadwick Boseman) returns from his cameo in Captain America: Civil War, still grieving over the loss of his father. With the death of the king, T'Challa is chosen to take on the mantle of ruler and defender of Wakanda, the Black Panther. However, his crowning is not without danger. Forces come out to challenge his rulership, and T'Challa finds himself defending both his crown and his way of life. Along the way, he faces new enemies and discovers a dark secret of his past.

Right off the bat, let's talk about diversity. A lot of people (mainly white people) ask why it's such a big deal to include women and minorities into the superhero genre. Black Panther is the perfect answer to that question.

Imagine if you lived your whole life eating nothing but hamburger. You love hamburger and you eat every way imaginable, so you never get tired of it. But one day, someone hands you something you've never seen before: a taco. Once you eat it, you never eat the same way again. You've been introduced to new flavors and ways of eating you never dreamed before.

Black Panther is a taco in a world of hamburgers. Many fans of Marvel have been starting to complain about how formulaic the movies have become. We started to see the same themes and ideas over and over again. Black Panther is revolutionary because it shows how just introducing a different culture can change everything we thought we knew about superhero movies. From the costumes to the storyline, it's all very different from what we've gotten used to, and that's amazing.

That starts with Black Panther's home country of Wakanda. Without a history of European conquest and the almost unlimited supply of vibranium, Wakanda is a highly advanced nation hidden under the guise of a third-world country. However, Wakanda isn't a European paradise or a European future. It's a wonderland infused with African themes where people ride on hovering trains while carrying spears, communicate with holograms from beads on their wrists, and wear three-piece suits with lip plates. It embraces its African setting without making it look primitive or unattractive. In other words, it's the essence of the Afro-Futurist movement which has never been seen in film before.

Wakanda is also developed with amazing depth. It's a fictional country with its own language, traditions, rituals, and political structure. When T'Challa walks the streets, it feels alive and real. It's a good thing, too, because it's where the majority of the movie is set.

We can start with the background and visuals that break ground, but also move into the story. Black Panther is an origin story in that it shows how T'Challa goes from a prince to a king, but it's not about a teenage boy who gets a spider bite or a billionaire who builds his own suit. It's about a man who's already one of the most powerful men on Earth who becomes even more powerful, then gets knocked down and has to fight his way back up.

Starting with his coronation when he's challenged by M'Baku the Man-Ape of a rival tribe, T'Challa has to fight to stay on top. His weakness comes when he finds out about Klaw (Andy Serkis) who has stolen vibranium and found out the truth about Wakanda. When T'Challa tries to catch him to stand trial, he discovers Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan), an American who has a dark connection to Wakanda.

Every great hero has a great villain, and Killmonger is definitely a great villain. He starts out seeming like just a sidekick but it turns out he has a very good reason for wanting the throne of Wakanda. Like all great villains, we kind of understand him. Killmonger raises a good point, which is that Wakanda kept itself hidden during centuries of bondage for Africans around the world. How much does Wakanda owe its people? Should they keep their secrets hidden? Or should Wakanda help lift the rest of the world?

The movie is jammed with a brilliant cast, but special attention goes to Letitia Wright who plays Black Panther's genius sister Shuri. She plays a completely groundbreaking role as a young black girl who is both smart, funny, and lovable. She builds his weapons with obvious satisfaction and enthusiasm as a combination of James Bond's Q and Tony Stark, and I expect a lot of young girls in the audience to start wearing Shuri costumes.

Lupita Nyong'o also plays Nakia, a Wakandan who left the country to improve the world. She is (of course) beautiful but also bold in that she's not the standard girlfriend trope. She doesn't need rescuing, and charges into battle with the others. She also keeps Black Panther at arms length, driving up a will-they-or-won't-they tension throughout the film.

Then of course, there's Danai Gurira as Okoye, general and leader of the Dora Milaje team. Let me just say that the Dora Milaje, a combination of bodyguards and elite warriors, would have been more groundbreaking if they weren't already surrounded by groundbreaking things. A team of black female fighters with shaved heads in a Hollywood movie is something no one would have done even ten years ago. They are an absolute delight to watch kicking butt, and also add a level of feminism that's never driven into our faces but is there.

There's more we can say (and will) but for all that, this review has to come down to "is Black Panther a good movie?" The answer is "yes." The action sequences are thrilling. The special effects are dazzling. The story had me and the audience on the edge of our seats. It's a finely crafted film that is more than just another title to add to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It's one that could change the course of the MCU, going in new directions with new ideas. It also could change filmmaking. In the same way that Wonder Woman showed a female-led blockbuster film could be successful, Black Panther shows minority-led blockbuster films can be successful. Here's hoping for more.

What did you think of Black Panther?

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