'Black Panther' is Revolutionary
If an action movie is only as good as its villain, then Black Panther is an all time great. Unlike some of the forgettable bad guys that have dragged down other superhero movies, Killmonger has a message that cannot be ignored or forgotten. His radical empathy is a direct challenge to Wakanda’s historically isolationist government and prompts the newly crowned king to reconsider how he ought to move his country forward.
Although I don’t totally buy Killmonger’s supposed selflessness, his plea for liberation throughout the African diaspora is a profound idea I never thought I’d see in a Marvel movie, or any $200 million movie for that matter. What makes Black Panther a great movie is not just the thrill I experienced in the theater, but the discussion it has inspired days after it first premiered. Whether you believe T’Challa, Killmonger, or Nakia belongs on the Wakandan throne, we ought to appreciate the rarity of a tentpole movie that actually encourages us to engage with one another and reconsider everything we know about cinema. Black Panther wrecks so many of the hundred year old misconceptions propagated by Hollywood, from the idea that movies with black protagonists don’t "travel" to the cliched representation of Africa as a backwards continent.
Just as Ryan Coogler surrounds himself with talented women on set, King T’Challa is bettered by the counsel of a predominantly female supporting cast. Lupita Nyong'o’s Nakita is the hero we need right now. As T’Challa’s love interest, she doesn’t nag or discourage his heroism; instead she encourages him to be better, to look outwards. She represents the generosity and innovation that Killmonger tried and failed to project as a leader.
If Black Panther was not a Marvel movie, it would be perfect. As much as it disrupts the superhero canon, the movie doesn’t necessarily shake all of the flaws of its predecessors. Black Panther fails to live up to the visual standard of Coogler and cinematographer Rachel Morrison’s previous films, despite the effort of art director Hannah Beachler who crafted the beautiful Afrofuturistic world of Wakanda in addition to adorning the sets of Moonlight and “Lemonade.” Marvel’s signature blandness takes another victim. Speaking of Marvel’s standardized cinematic style, Black Panther does include a lot of the brand’s well-known corniness, including fuzzy flashbacks and a meme-y sense of humor, for better or for worse. As a Marvel fan, none of these qualities irks me in particular, and I’m happy to say that Black Panther joins the ranks of the smartest and most enjoyable films of the franchise.