DUMAGUETE CITY – Marvel has released yet another superhero movie. This time, it’s Black Panther in the spotlight – King of the breathtaking albeit fictional techtropolis that is Wakanda.
Quick background: Black Panther is a fictional superhero created by the awesome Marvel duo, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. Black Panther, on this film, is really T’Challa, king and protector of Africa’s version of Atlantis called Wakanda. He assumed kingship when his father, T’Chaka, died after a terror attack depicted in Captain America: Civil War. Apart from sourcing his powers from Wakandan rituals, T’Challa heavily relies on science, physical training, and advanced technology powered by its most valuable resource: vibranium. Vibranium is this rare, naturally occurring meteoric ore with energy-manipulating qualities. No wonder Captain America’s impenetrable shield is partially made from such a precious metal (imaginary but still).
Don’t get intimidated by all the geek speak. It’s fairly straightforward on the big screen with the film starting off with a crash course on Wakandan history and how the Black Panther came to be. However, it’s not your average superhero origins movie. It delves on so much: a call to action against racism, the celebration of women’s strength and resolve, the beauty of forgiveness, and the power of democracy and global cooperation.
There are three things that really stood out, well, at least for me. The first is the Dora Milaje (pronounced as “dora-meh-LAH-shay”). This is a special forces unit that protects the King. And get this: they are an all-woman team. It’s one thing to see what draconian beliefs call “the weaker sex” being represented by strong, formidable, larger-than-life ladies. It’s another to see these Wakandan Amazons looking so cool with their rich warrior garb and golden spears. In action, these fierce femme fatales are as deadly as they are beautiful. Led by their revered general, Okoye (played by the wonderful Danai Gurira of The Walking Dead fame), the Dora Milaje will not hesitate to offer life and limb to protect Wakanda and its King.
The second is the celebration of African culture in all its richness and singularity. It’s revolutionary in that way. This is one of the few mainstream movies featuring a predominantly black cast. Charismatic Chadwick Boseman, the actor playing the titular role, said as much in one of his interviews. “I think it’s important because we haven’t seen anything like it,” he says. “People are thirsty for it. It’s one thing to tell a story about historical figures. It’s another for that story to be aspirational – to not be defined by slavery, to not be defined by colonialism. It’s important to get away from those boundaries. People are excited about the promise of what it could be and what it should be.” Running parallel to this beauty is the dark side emanating from rising poverty and violence. This stark contrast of the so-called “black experience” is one of the underlying themes of this movie expertly weaved through the storyline by director and co-writer Ryan Coogler (Fruitvale Station and Creed).
The third is the multi-faceted and tragic backstory of the film’s ultimate baddie: Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan). The movie successfully humanized the villain but stopped short at validating his cause due to extreme beliefs and methods at times bordering on psychopathic territory. The character is reminiscent of Captain America: Civil War’s villain: Col. Helmut Zemo whose fanatic zeal to avenge loved ones was cleverly masked by this veneer of calm, assured composure. It’s those villains that heroes really have to watch out for — the cold, calculating, unforgivingly sadistic type who have a profound reason to explain how they became the way they are.
Black Panther is one superhero movie that definitely defines how it is being more than the usual. From spectacular cinematography to equally magnificent performances by Chadwick Boseman, Lupita Nyong’o, Letitia Wright (whose character, Shuri, kids will definitely dig), and the rest of the cast, this juggernaut of a film truly deserves all the praise it has been receiving.