When Wonder Woman came out it was widely celebrated in the press and so it should have been. Here was a comic book movie that placed a representative of a massively under presented group right at its centre. Finally a lady was at the heart of a film in a genre entirely dominated by white men. Sure there had been female superheroes before, there had even been female lead superhero films before but not with as much success critically and commercially as this one. This was a film directed by a woman about a strong woman that little girls could be properly inspired by. There was even talk of Oscars (which good as the movie was it really would not have deserved). Following Wonder Woman’s release there were numerous articles in papers, magazines and online telling us what a hugely important movie this was and even though it had flaws it totally deserved all the attention.
The thing is Black Panther deserves that attention too and it’s not getting it, certainly not to anywhere near the same extent. By featuring not just a black character in this type of movie, but an entire black culture, Marvel’s latest picture is every inch as important as Wonder Woman, if not more so, but it isn’t generating the same column inches. This itself only serves to illustrate the absolute need for this film. It also represents a massive group of massively under represented people, it also gives a new bunch of kids a chance to see others like them up on the big screen and it is also long overdue. Those people are also under represented in the media and in journalism though, even more than women, so the same amount of noise is just not being made. It’s a better movie than Wonder Woman too and actually it’s great from a feminist point of view as well. If you like action movies you literally have to see Black Panther and in fact even if you don’t you still ought to give it your cash. There are people out there organising Facebook campaigns to boycott this movie, there are people posting hate fuelled fake news stories about black cinema goers beating up white cinema goers at screenings. Everyone has to show these scum what a pathetic and ugly little minority they are in. Go and see the film now, you could genuinely make the world a better place if you do.
The further good news is that Black Panther is also a tremendous amount of fun. We already met African Prince T’Challa in Captain America: Civil War, where the character arguably made the biggest impact of any of the many MCU heroes not to be introduced in their own movie (with the exception of Spider-Man who doesn’t count). In that film we got a fair understanding of his history and heritage but here that is fleshed out magnificently. The movie is mostly set in the fictional East African country of Wakanda and the place is spectacular, a brilliant mix of contemporary and traditional. The MCU has given us incredible lands before, mostly with Thor, but in this case it is populated by an authentic people with detailed customs based on real African societies. Black Panther really spends time on this aspect and it is one of the things that really sets it apart. There have been other films that have dwelled on culture and tradition such as Avatar but when these are made up it can feel trite and possibly even insulting to real places. Here it feels honest and a proper tribute to people that really exist. Frankly, up until now mainstream cinemas greatest depiction of Africa was in The Lion King so this is great.
Chadwick Boseman’s T’Challa is a compelling protagonists but for good or for bad he is eclipsed by almost all of the supporting characters, most of them empowered women. Letitia Wright is excellent as T’Challa’s tech genius little sister, infectiously enthusiastic about everything. Lupita Nyongo is also really strong as Nakia who is so so much more than just the love interest. It is great to actually see Nyongo on screen as since her Oscar winning performance in 12 Years a Slave most of her big movies have involved voice work and mocap. The same goes for the king of mocap Andy Serkis who brilliantly revisits Ulysses Klaue, a part he played in Age of Ultron. Michael B. Jordan is excellent as the best misguided villain with a righteous cause since General Hummel in The Rock and Martin Freeman is once again demonstrates how he is the best at knitwear heroics. (He’s not actually wearing a jumper in this film but you know at the very least he’s got a vest on under his suit.) Daniel Kaluuya continues to establish his star status and Forest Whitaker and Angela Bassett further cement theirs. The film might just be stolen by Danai Gurira though as head of the all female Wakanda security forces Okoye. There was a moment in Civil War when this character almost got into a fight with Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow and T’Challa said it was something he’d like to see. Now we know exactly why because Okoye is a kick ass warrior to rival even her.
As well as featuring a predominantly African American/English cast Black Panther also has a black director, Ryan Coogler, and black writers, Coogler and Joe Robert Cole. The character was created by two white guys, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, in 1966 and while they did a good job (legend has it bosses told them to put more white people in the comics so they wrote a story with Black Panther beating up the Ku Klux Klan) it is great that this is now in the hands where it belongs. There is no way this film would have worked as well with white people at the helm just as Zack Snyder couldn’t direct Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman anywhere near as well as Patty Jenkins.
Just as it should Black Panther also has a brilliant political message. It highlights the injustice dealt out to black people throughout the whole of history (and now) but ultimately says that the only way forward is for everyone to work together as one race. This is clearly something that everyone of all backgrounds should take to heart and I hope this film starts off a period of change in Hollywood both on screen and off it just as Wonder Woman seems to have done.
Narratively this is not Marvel’s best film, it is a little predictable and possibly a little long, but Black Panther is bigger than that. This is without a doubt Marvel’s most important film and it could well be the single most important blockbuster movie ever.