Why “Black Panther” Matters


All the best superhero movies have two things in common, they are:

1) Stand alone films and 2) Establish or begin the sustaining myths.

bp3Which means the most fulfilling are usually the first ones in a franchise like “Iron Man,” “Captain America: The First Avenger” and  “Wonder Woman.” It’s where the escapism is pure, the pleasure is in discovery and there is a bracing sense of new things being explored.

“Black Panther” is all those things and a social phenomenon as well.

It is a visually sweeping and sumptuously designed introduction to the marvel comics character of an African prince played by Chadwick Boseman, with superpowers who comes from a scientifically advanced nation that is hiding from the world.

It is set in a warrior culture like “Wonder Woman” and its battle is an interior one of its own making, personal and tribal, when a radical challenger to the throne emerges, played by Michael B. Jordan.

The prince, whose powers come from a plant that grows only in his country of Wakanda, is surrounded by powerful woman; his mother played by Angela Bassett, a too brassy for my taste little sister, played by Letitia wright who invented all his weapons and technology, a spy played by Oscar winner Lupita Nyongo, and an army of women soldiers whose leader is played by Danai Gurira.

22222The film by Ryan Coogler, who directed Jordan in “Creed” and “Fruitvale Station” “is influenced and inspired by bold African motifs, colors, sounds, fashion, design and myths.

I have some quibbles with it. It feels equal but separate in its lack of engagement with the Marvel Comics universe – though that will surely come next – and its broad and sweeping digital set pieces often look artificial though that can be a function of seeing it in 3D which plays with depth and perception.

The problem with issue movies is that you end up reviewing the issue and not the movie. But its hard to downplay the significance of “Black Panther.”

It reminds me of the way Hollywood gave the keys to the kingdom to the youth movement in the 1970s, and the result was strikingly original films many of which have lasted over time.

Here Marvel has given young people of color heroes that look like them in a film whose superhero creation myth fans of all races will recognize as familiar.

It is inspirational, aspirational,and entertaining in ways the best superhero movies – all movies – should be.


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