Marvel breaks out of the square movie box: Black Panther film review

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by Gabrielle Khan
At the dawn of superhero movies, the formula was clear-cut: good guy is good, bad guy is bad, good-guy-beats-bad-guy, roll credits. Even Marvel adhered to this blueprint. It wasn’t until around 2008 (when Marvel’s hit-movie Iron Man was released) that Marvel’s narrative began to evolve, becoming more morally complex. The entertainment company’s recent release, Black Panther, exemplifies this growth, touching on tender topics with a maturity that has not been exhibited in other movies of its type.
Black Panther focuses on Wakanda, a fictitious and technologically advanced African nation. T’Challa [Chadwick Boseman], King of Wakanda, takes the throne after his father’s death when he is opposed by Erik Killmonger [Michael B. Jordan]- a product of the previous ruler’s attempts to keep Wakanda isolated and protected from the problems of the outside world. The film addresses Wakanda’s abandonment of blacks around the globe, explaining how the secretive nation could have provided the oppressed with a means of rebellion.
Superhero movies tend to portray the protagonist as superior to all minor characters- either the hero is a genius where others are average, or have super-strength where others are weak. Sure, this concept may be the purpose of a superhero, but it tends to paint all other characters as flat and uninteresting. This statement does not hold true with Black Panther. Shuri [Letitia Wright], T’Challa’s sister, is intelligent and quirky – Okoye [Danai Gurira], the general of Wakanda is strong and loyal to her nation – Nakia, [Lupita Nyong’o] T’Challa’s ex, is determined to defend the defenseless. These personalities leave the viewer not only admiring T’Challa, but every supporting character as well.
Marvel also has a track record of featuring two-dimensional antagonists. Yep, you guessed it, Black Panther has one of, if not the most complex villains I’ve ever seen in a superhero movie. Erik Killmonger (despite the goofy surname) provides a unique perspective on the actions, or lack thereof, of Wakanda. Left orphaned as a child, Erik has to ascend past the harsh life of an impoverished neighborhood, making it to Massachusetts Institute of Technology and later serving as a black ops agent for several years. After he discovers the truth about his Wakandan origin and finds his way back, he challenges T’Challa’s and the past kings’ belief in isolationism, arguing that Wakanda could have provided for their people around the world. This creates a gray-area for the viewer, as the antagonist has a valid motive, but the emotional trauma from his past fuels him to resort to the wrong methods.
The only aspect of a superhero film that Black Panther lacks is action. If you’re considering watching the movie for the cool scenes that we’ve seen in previous Marvel films, you’ll be left disappointed. If, however, you’ve been waiting for complexity to show itself in superhero movies, this is the movie that you’ve been anticipating.