At first, I was worried about the direction of the Marvel Cinematic Universe after it was acquired by Disney. Disappointed by the progression of the Star Wars franchise (which is also now owned by Disney), I had reservations about Mickey Mouse’s fingerprints getting all over one of the most royal heroes in the Marvel universe. But my reservations evaporated during the first ten minutes of Black Panther, without a doubt one of the greatest superhero movies of all time.
With a star-studded cast—including Chadwick Boseman as T’Challa, the king of Wakanda and Marvel’s first black superhero star since Blade, and Michael B. Jordan as the villainous Erik Killmonger—and directed by Jordan’s frequent collaborator, Ryan Coogler, Black Panther is so well-written and -executed (not to mention the brilliant soundtrack headed by Kendrick Lamar) that it will surely keep breaking records and top all previous Marvel movies. It's revolutionary on so many levels.
Most important for the Marvel universe, it introduces Wakanda, a fictional, technologically advanced African nation that had previously been hidden in plain sight. Wakanda is an abundant source of Vibranium, the alien metal used to make Captain America’s shield and the Winter Soldier’s arm, the resource sought by Avengers villain Ultron and used to help synthesize Vision into being. This all shows that Wakanda has major significance in the world Marvel and Disney are creating.
While it helps connect the dots between Captain America: Civil War and the upcoming Avengers: Infinity War, Black Panther is also a game-changing standalone movie, with Afrofuturist elements that turn traditional Hollywood on its head. Wakanda is one of the most advanced nations on Earth. Leading the technological revolution, T’Challa’s sixteen-year-old sister, Shuri (Letitia Wright), makes Tony Stark look like your grandpa learning about Facebook. Wakanda’s most powerful warriors are women. We quickly realize how T’Challa would be nothing without his loyal warriors and Queen Mother. (God bless you, Angela Bassett.)
Black Panther represents an encouraging trend in cinema. With a majority black cast, it portrays black people and culture from a place of power and self-reliance, not as slaves, the help, or the winners of a state championship. It shows what black writers, actors, and characters can do when given the opportunity to take center stage. (It will also show the power of the black dollar at the box office.)
I left feeling empowered and excited for what’s to come for T’Challa and the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The movie was so good that, even though I fully support the heroes in the world of Marvel, I was vexed to find myself also rooting for Killmonger. Jordan gives a top-tier villain performance, rivaling Magneto and Loki. If Halle Berry gets a call for one of the sequels, this might be the greatest franchise established in our lifetime. Wakanda forever!