Listen: Laura Bennett reviews The Black Panther.
Eighteen. That’s how many films from the Marvel Cinematic Universe have hit cinemas since 2008. We’ve met Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, and well if you do the maths – many more. So what could The Black Panther add to a genre criticised for being tired and overdone?
Video Review – Laura reviews The Black Panther
Hailing from the technologically advanced African nation of Wakanda, T’Challa (Black Panther) is returning to his isolated home after the death of his father to assume the throne, and take his rightful place as king. The expectations on his leadership are fraught with compromise, as some of his people believe Wakanda should use its assets to help the rest of the world, while others want to preserve Wakanda’s anonymity and resources for themselves.
The Black Panther taps into the themes we love about superhero films
Reminiscent of Spidey (Spiderman) being called out by Uncle Ben to know that “with great power comes great responsibility”, The Black Panther taps into the themes we love about superhero films: the discovery of an important power, the world needing that power, and our hero finding the courage to use it for good. The Black Panther flips the formula choosing a black hero, from a developing nation, who isn’t in need of aid from the outside world. And with that, the conversation starters begin.
In The Black Panther, a world is imagined where global power could come from countries historically marginalised, and where people groups normally cast to the sidelines could offer all they are to the world in the interest of unity and progression. It invites us to depart from the stereotype of Western wisdom being what the world needs now, and consider what other cultures could contribute.
Relying heavily on ancestral worship, T’Challa seeks to honour the legacy of his forefathers while adapting their traditions and beliefs to the 21st century. Having lived with ‘civilians’ (seen in his first outing in Captain America: Civil War), T’Challa is trying to bridge the gap between his spiritual upbringing and the history of his people, and a modern American world which doesn’t know about the strength and intellect of the Wakandan nation who occupy it.
It’s a lofty goal, and one The Black Panther doesn’t always get right (think self-deprecation and the ‘token white guy’ being nicknamed ‘coloniser’), but you can forgive the filmmakers when you realise these gaffes are the only comic relief in an otherwise thought-provoking film.
The Black Panther is its own breed of superhero film, but amid the African aesthetic and subtitles, it speaks a truth we can all understand: in times of division, “the wise build bridges while the foolish build barriers.”