Marvel Cinematic Universe Steps Up Its Game With Black Panther

Black Panther UK PosterBlack Panther has managed to do something I never thought possible; it has dethroned Captain America: The Winter Soldier as my favorite movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Black Panther is a solid entry to the ever-entwined franchise and a perfect example of how to do a stand-alone film.

I don’t want to spoil anyone too much, because Black Panther is a movie that you should definitely go into without knowing much, just so you can be awed the same way that I was. But this is A MOVIE. The cinematography is incredible, the special effects are insane, the music is stellar, the script is great, and the cast is top-notch. Basically, everything about Black Panther is awesome.

One of the reasons Black Panther is a great stand-alone film is because it IS a stand-alone film. Yes, you can see the connections with the rest of the MCU in Martin Freeman’s Agent Ross (who appeared in Captain America: Civil War) and Andy Serkis’s Klaue (who was in Avengers: Age of Ultron), but that’s about it. It references Civil War, as it takes place about a week after those events, but it’s set almost entirely in Wakanda, about Wakanda. T’Challa deserves his own story, without the aid of other heroes from the MCU, and he gets it in spades in this film – family drama, a crisis of faith, a romance, and some unbelievable fight sequences.

At the heart of Black Panther is a message about race and about the different beliefs in how to handle it. Killmonger is angry, because he grew up abandoned by the world, and he sees the way black people are treated everywhere and wants to do something to stop it. T’Challa was raised to believe that Wakanda needed to isolate itself if they didn’t want to be colonized the same way the rest of the continent was. Their clashing ideologies, and the discussions around them, make up the core of the film. If you have the ability to help, do you have a responsibility to do so? And if you believe that you do have the responsiblity, how do you help?

One of my favorite things about Black Panther are the female characters. T’Challa is surrounded by strong, capable women, and it’s amazing. Of course, there are the Dora Milaje, the king’s personal bodyguards. Led by Okoye, the Dora Milaje are an elite fighting force that scoff at the primitiveness of guns and seem completely at home car-surfing. All of Wakanda’s technological innovations are designed by T’Challa’s sister Shuri, who is brilliant and super into what she does. Nakia is fiercely loyal and just wants to do good in the world. In a film franchise where there is usually one token female character – maybe more, occasionally – it was amazing to see the main hero aided by women all along the way. It is especially amazing that they were women of color – something the MCU has been sorely lacking.

On that topic, there is one place where Black Panther could have done better. In the comics, two of the Dora Milaje are in a romantic relationship, but this is not addressed in the movie. I don’t think it necessarily takes away from the film, since Okoye is really the only Dora Milaje who gets significant screen time, but it was a simple opportunity for LGBTQ+ inclusion that was overlooked for whatever reason. It’s disappointing that Marvel won’t take that leap even when there’s the perfect chance for it.

Director Ryan Coogler and star Chadwick Boseman both talked about giving Wakanda its own sense of identity. They wanted it to look and seem like a real country, and not just a mish-mash of a bunch of different cultures, and I think they succeeded. Wakanda has futuristic technology (seriously, Tony Stark would salivate if he ever got to set foot in Shuri’s lab), but it still looks like a country in modern-day Africa. Wakanda has its own traditions and language (which is spoken a fair bit). I totally believe Wakanda could actually exist.

Black Panther is a stellar example of a superhero solo film done right. It raises the bar for the rest of the MCU, and I will now have higher expectations for upcoming films.

Author: Jamie Sugah

Jamie has a BA in English with a focus in creative writing from The Ohio State University. She self-published her first novel, The Perils of Long Hair on a Windy Day, which is available through Amazon. She is currently an archivist and lives in New York City with her demon ninja vampire cat. She covers television, books, movies, anime, and conventions in the NYC area.

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