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Mario Bautista, has been with the entertainment industry for more than 4 decades. He writes regular columns for People's Journal and Malaya.

Feb 16, 2018

Black Panther Movie Review: A Different Kind Of Superhero Movie With Social Relevance And An Almost All Black Cast

‘BLACK PANTHER’ surely exceeded all our expectations! It’s part of MCU (Marvel Comic Universe), the biggest Holllywood mega-franchise ever, but this one has an almost all-black cast and directed by a black director. This is a very daring move for Disney, really, as racists who have an aversion to people of color will surely avoid it.

The director, Ryan Coogler, made waves with “Fruitvale Station” in 2013 (about the shooting of a black man in Oakland, California in 2009) and then directed “Creed” in 2015, about the son of Apollo Creed who’s trained by Rocky Balboa. He injected some very socially significant elements in this Superhero movie that’s simply amazing. He’s from an inner city of Oakland and the movie’s prelude is set in Oakland in 1992, the time of the Los Angeles riots.

The story is set mainly in Wakanda, a fictional or mythical African country that’s not been plundered by colonialists nations and not corrupted by slavery. And the Wakanda he shows us is really very beautiful on screen, born from his own imagination running wild, so ideal compared to his native Oakland. It’s very rich because of the extraordinary and precious element with many astonishing magical properties, vibranium, deposited in it by a meteor aeons of years ago and that has remained well hidden in its natural resources. Because of this, Wakanda has super advanced technology and they even have spaceships for regular transportation, but somehow, they all manage to keep it all a secret to the rest of the world.

The Black Panther is Wakandan Prince T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman), who was first introduced in “Captain America: Civil War”, where his father was shown being killed in an explosion. Now, in his own origin movie, he is in line to succeed his father as King. Meantime, a white arms dealer steals a major artifact from a British museum, Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis, who played the motion capture characters, Gollum in “Lord of the Rings” and Caesar in the last two “Planet of the Apes” flicks).

We first met Klaue in “Avengers, Age of Ultron”, and the artifact he now steals is made of vibranium. Working with him is a former soldier, Erik Stevens aka Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan who played “Creed”), a ghost from the past who has a very personal ax to grind against T’Challa and his family.

The first action scene of the Black Panther sees him battling a convoy of Nigerian bad guys who are into human trafficking, kidnapping black women from various villages. This obviously refers to the Nigerian women who are abducted and enslaved by the Islamic state in West Africa known as Boko Haram.

One of the captives is Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o, Oscar winner for “12 Years a Slave”), an ex-girlfriend of T’Challa who belongs to Wakanda’s all-female special forces unit known as the Dora Milaje. Nakia shows global concern for her oppressed black sisters who face a lot violence and terror that are toxic legacies of colonial powers, giving the movie a political dimension and demonstrating that its concerns are somehow rooted in today’s timely issues and real life injustices in Africa.

It poses well grounded concerns about the treatment of Africans and their descendants in America who got there because of slavery. How does one confront the crimes of their own ancestors, and is it really the duty of an advanced black nation to help their impoverished and oppressed counterparts in other countries?

Another notable element in the movie is that T’Challa is supported by very strong and able women who will rival the amazons of Themyscira in “Wonder Woman”. Aside from Nakia, we meet his younger sister Shuri (Letitia Wright), a technological whiz who invents all his amazing gadgets for him, just like what Q does for James Bond. And there’s his mother, Queen Ramonda, who knows how to prepare a special plant and make a potent concoction that gives T’Challa the power of the Black Panther. But it is Danai Gurira (of “Walking Dead”) as Okoye, who really impresses us with her powerful kickass moves. The fearless general of the female guards can put down anyone with just her stern look, but more so with her skills in using the spear that she wields expertly. She won’t hesitate to use it even against her own lover for the sake of her country.

Michael B. Jordan surely makes a terrifically outstanding villain as Killmonger who fights for his own ideology of black emacipation where the end justifies the means. But Boseman rightfully projects T’Challa as a very honorable, decent, well meaning leader of Wakanda who deeply cares about honor and justice. They have two action packed encounters that are both excitingly executed on screen.

The first one shows Killmonger challenging T’Challa in a fight to the finish. This is part of Wakandan custom where the new ruler of their nation faces a challenger through a one-on-one, hand-to-hand combat with a beautiful giant waterfall as the background. Whoever wins becomes the new king. Before Killmonger, T’Challa also has to face the defiant leader of a clan who look like apemen, M’Baku (Winston Duke), but it is in Killmonger that he faces a truly formidable opponent. After this, they have a final showdown in the film’s climax and it’s really a ferocious fight to the finish.

Come to think of it, Killmonger’s grievances against Wakanda are quite valid. He wants to use Wakanda’s wealth and resources to empower oppressed black people in other nations who live miserable lives because of colonial domination of white people. We have to admit that having a black skin is a distinguishing mark of discrimination, even here in Asian countries like us where negroes are made fun of as they’re called ulikba, baluga or uling.

It’s seldom for a superhero origin flick to be as satisfying as this (the last one was “Wonder Woman”), but “Black Panther” surely doesn’t feel like your typical Marvel fantasy movie as it makes the Marvel universe a more involving one. Women and blacks are not relegated to their usual token supporting roles, so here’s looking forward to more movies from Ryan Coogler.

And don’t leave the theatre right away as there are two extra sequences that interrupt the end credits. The first one shows T’Challa talking to the United Nations and the last one (nearly at the very end) shows Shuri talking to a familiar face, the Winter Soldier, which really intrigues as a lot. It’s also announced that the Black Panther will next be seen in the ensemble movie, “Avengers: Infinity War”, with all the other Marvel Superheroes.