Superhero worship in Black Panther
Game-changing Marvel adventure muses on colonialism and racism – and has all the elements fans look for in a blockbuster
16 February, 2018 — By Dan Carrier
Lupita Nyong’o and Chadwick Boseman in Black Panther
Directed by Ryan Coogler
THIS latest Marvel adventure feels like a game-changer, a break from the all-white male supremacy represented by chiselled, college jock cape-wearers. Superman, Iron Man, Batman and Captain America step aside. A new hero is in town.
And no surprise it is being greeted in this way when it is an adventure about a black superhero and features women in leading roles who have not been shoehorned in as stereotypical characters and afterthoughts but are warriors or scientists.
It also has at its root a musing on colonialism and racism, giving it a political angle that in this current age feels important – and feels a long time coming.
Black Panther was a 1966 Marvel comic created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. The writers wanted a superhero their black readership would identify with, and so created a character who was the heir to the kingdom of Wakanda.
Tucked among almost impenetrable mountain ranges and forests, this country has hidden in plain view from the rest of the world. We learn that a meteorite smashed into it millions of years ago, and brought with it a powerful alien mineral called Vibranium.
The Wakanda people have used it carefully for centuries, its powers helping create a super-advanced society. On top of this, from the rich earth a special flower has blossomed, and when ground and ingested it gives the king superhuman powers – creating the Black Panther.
We also discover Wakanda’s king has been assassinated while attending a UN conference and so the crown is passed on to T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman).
At the same time, international arms trader and general all-round baddie Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis) has got wind of the powers of Vibranium and stolen a batch to sell on.
The CIA are interested and this brings in Agent Ross (Martin Freeman).
Another layer is added by a family tragedy that has created a feud within the monarchy, and Erik Killmonger (Michael B Jordan), a cousin of the king, has his eyes on taking the throne. A US special forces assassin, he wants to use the nation’s powers to put right centuries of colonialism and exploitation. T’Challa believes it is better to keep the country secluded and work quietly to help others.
BP looks good. Steeped in the imagery of Afro-Futurism, with nods to the post-war Modernist cityscapes of Ghana, the capital is a pleasing hotch-potch of high-tech industry and more traditional ideas of central African life.
The action scenes are well choreographed, the booms big, but best of all are the sets, locations costumes and design. Wakanda is gorgeous.
It has a nice origin story behind it, and more heft than your average Marvel creation. It draws on Shakespearean themes of monarchical skulduggery, power grabs and fratricide. It touches on various aspects of modern history, and can’t help but consider issues over race and modern America as well as colonialism and the exploitation of Africa by the western powers.
BP feels very much of our time. For that, it deserves praise – and also manages to contain all the elements you look for in such a blockbuster.