‘Black Panther’: Killmonger Steals The Entire Film

Black Panther full movie hardly seems like a Marvel flick, or even a superhero flick, at all. That’s very much meant as a compliment, as this film offers a bold, fresh take on the superhero origin Black Panther story, a narrative that’s been growing stale for years.

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Chadwick Boseman is King T’Challa of Wakanda, the fictional African country, the home of secret sci-fi technology, who must step up and embrace the huge responsibility of his birthright after the death of his father.

Rather than building a new, super-suited identity and experimenting with newfound powers, T’Challa’s task is to become a better ruler than his father and change the direction of Wakanda, a country that has chosen to hide from the world. Wakanda takes isolationism to a whole new level, keeping its magic tech and precious metal a closely guarded secret, its borders firmly closed to foreigners.

But T’Challa learns the strangely Trumpian attitude of Wakanda and muses over the morality of their old traditions. In facing his disruptive challenger to the throne, Killmonger, T’Challa comes to understand that the country’s isolation, and rejection of outsiders, is both unsustainable and morally bankrupt.

Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) must be the best bad guy Marvel has ever created, by a huge margin, but is criminally underused. Jordan’s charisma shines the moment he appears on screen, and his character’s anger feels entirely justified, even if his plans for violent uprising are easy to condemn. He’s such a great baddie, in fact, that he breezily steals every sequence he shows up in, and highlights how fundamentally boring T’Challa really is.

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For the Black Panther is kind of similar to Captain America – straight as an arrow, inhumanely righteous. But T’Challa is humanized by his relationship with kid sister Shuri, portrayed by the amazing Letitia Wright; their familial squabbles are cute and relatable, which helps bring the King of Wakanda down to earth. And Shuri is a very strong and spirited character – she steals the show along with Killmonger.

Killmonger, like suggested by his name, is really, really good at killing people, and sadly, Wakanda picks their leadership based on combative talent. Interestingly, this is what makes Killmonger such a fascinating villain – his challenge to T’Challa isn’t just physical, it’s philosophical.

For Killmonger’s attack on Wakanda exposes the country’s glaring faults, stripping the initial illusion of shiny, technological Utopia. And the fact that Wakanda is openly flawed makes it feel so very real – the spectacular costume design and world-building do the rest. I particularly liked the ritual, and sense of history associated with the role of Black Panther – this is an ancient, important tradition, not a decision to protect the world on a whim, like every other superhero.

This story feels like a true journey into the unknown – the depths of space and alien worlds we visit in Guardians of the Galaxy are less colorful and interesting than this hidden gem of Africa. Black Panther takes full advantage of its setting to show us a unique and visually stunning world, the Afrofuturistic aesthetic highlighting how embarrassingly monotonous so many of our sci-fi and fantasy blockbusters really are.

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The themes of isolationism, military intervention, the dangers of advanced technology, are fairly sophisticated for a superhero movie, but not too heavy. The film boasts a balanced blend of fun-filled adventure and light political commentary.

Black Panther is certainly one of Marvel’s strongest efforts, and perhaps its most unique. But I did have a couple of issues; the film is too long, and the majority of the action scenes are dull. But strangely enough, that doesn’t really matter – this superhero film derives its strength from its setting and characters, rather than its action sequences.

My biggest issue was with T’Challa’s journey himself, and for that, we have to venture into spoiler territory.

Spoilers Ahead

My biggest problem with Black Panther, is that when T’Challa hits his lowest point, the rock bottom of a waterfall, he disappears from the story entirely.

The narrative shifts to the badass female warriors of Wakanda, and when we catch up with T’Challa again, he’s undergone a dramatic transformation, and is not only ready to retake the throne, he’s willing to connect Wakanda to the rest of the world. That’s a big change, and we don’t really see how he gets there.

A conversation with his dead father isn’t quite enough to justify this mammoth shift in direction for an ancient, proud society. But we all know it’s the right thing to do, so it works, just about. But this film feels less like T’Challa’s story, and more like Killmonger’s.

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The story really picks up when he acquires the throne, and his final act, choosing a noble death rather than living in chains, is deeply poignant. Unfortunatly, T’Challa doesn’t come anywhere close to leaving such an impression.

It’s a genuine tragedy that Killmonger is killed off – same with the cartoonish Klaue (played by a non-CGI version of Andy Serkis). Both of these villains are fantastic, and hopefully can return to the Marvel universe, which is severely lacking in the sympathetic villain department. Nobody really dies in sci-fi (or comic books, come to that).

But T’Challa’s greatest scene comes in the post-credits, in his own I am Iron Man moment; in a press conference, he announces that Wakanda is willing to share their magical metal with the world. The announcement is met with derision – what does some dirt-poor African nation have to offer? T’Challa simply smirks in response.

The scene highlights the most important, and powerful theme of Black Panther full movie – that we’ve been undervaluing African culture, and African-American culture, for far too long, to our own detriment. It’s time to celebrate it.

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‘Black Panther’: Killmonger Steals The Entire Film
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