“Black Panther” innovates Marvel’s narrative

Illustration by Jacque Chandler.
Illustration by Jacque Chandler.

The excitement for Marvel’s latest blockbuster “Black Panther” has been infectious for over a year now. Not since 1998’s “Blade” has there been a large budget blockbuster with a mostly Black leading cast and crew. The film is helmed by the best Black filmmakers and actors working in Hollywood, making a film that looked to embrace its racial identity.

No matter how “Black Panther” turned out, this would be an important moment in pop culture in terms of how representation is valued by Hollywood studios and audiences. This moment is made all the more vital by the astounding quality of its catalyst.

Taking place soon after the events of “Captain America: Civil War,” Prince T’Challa takes over as leader of Wakanda, a culturally and technologically advanced African nation hidden from the world. Soon after taking the throne, threats from the nation’s past rear their heads as T’Challa must face the dark legacy of his ancestors and wrestle with how it affects the present.

At its core, “Black Panther” is one of Marvel’s best movies and one of the best blockbuster films. Ryan Coogler and his crew have crafted a film that is fun and exciting and intelligently realizes its potential within its afrofuturistic premise.

The main cast is fantastic, with every actor giving interesting and convincing performances. Chadwick Boseman owns his role as T’Challa, while Michael B. Jordan proves once again how amazing of an actor he is with his portrayal of the antagonist Killmonger.

Special mention should be made of the film’s female characters: Lupita Nyong’o as the spy Nakia, Danai Gurira as the head of the Wakandan military Okoye and Letitia Wright as T’Challa’s brilliant and tech-savvy sister Shuri. All three serve as highlights throughout the movie, playing vivid characters who steal any scene they’re in.

Ryan Coogler brings his filmmaking chops from 2015’s “Creed” into the action scenes of “Black Panther.” These expertly shot sequences are exciting and full of kinetic choreography and twists on older cliches. The scenes are impressive and many were done in one take.

Coogler also uses the camera in creative ways outside the fight scenes to make a dynamic movie. This feeling is also supported by the soundtrack, a blend of traditional African music and chants with modern hip-hop and electronic beats that weave in and out depending on what’s happening in the story.

The past few Marvel films like “Thor: Ragnarok” and “Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2” have changed up the Marvel narrative formula. The former became an outright comedy full of beautiful action scenes, while the latter reduced the scale and focused on intimate issues of family and self-growth.

“Black Panther” changes the formula by developing an afrofuturistic world with Wakanda and tying its antagonists and story to current social issues. Instead of avoiding topics some audiences might find uncomfortable, the film asks the questions and aims to answer them.

The country of Wakanda is as much of a character as T’Challa and his companions. It’s a vibrant, exciting location bursting with creativity and small details just waiting to be explored in further films or fan fictions. It’s a place untouched by outside influences, leading to a society full of its own traditions and customs.

The nation’s history of isolation is a key plot point within the narrative and becomes part of the central conflict. “Black Panther” isn’t just about T’Challa growing into his new role as king, but Wakanda deciding its place within a globalized world.

These themes may sound heavy or intense, but they are handled wonderfully, fitting perfectly within the Marvel structure that is once again given new life with these characters and script.

During the final act of “Black Panther,” when the largest action set pieces take place and the plot points reach their conclusions, I was surprised at how different it felt from the third acts of other Marvel films. It’s still exciting and crowd-pleasing — proven by the cheering and clapping from my fellow audience members — but there was something else there. That “something” was a sense of a greater purpose, of a narrative reaching conclusions beyond the characters, making a statement on the world as a whole.

This focus on a message and unapologetically presenting and exploring it is what separates “Black Panther” from other blockbusters. It never loses sight of what makes movies have a lasting impression: a cast of memorable and likable characters, a fully realized and fascinating world and a style that feels all its own.

Sam Goodrich Staff Writer

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