Black Panther Provides a New Reality for Superhero Films
Even before its release, Black Panther took the world by storm. It smashed box office records, sitting comfortably behind Marvel’s Avengers. Director Ryan Coogler and the rest of the cast made Black Panther stand out from the pantheon of other superhero movies, much like Wonder Woman before it. If Patty Jenkins’s Wonder Woman changed the way we see women–especially in superhero films–then Black Panther did the same for people of color. However, I believe that Black Panther took it a step further than that. I believe that it has paved a new path for superhero films. It told a very mature story with hard questions and developed characters, and built an incredible world.
Characters with Depth
While the cinematography looked great in most scenes and Coogler’s direction was well balanced, the characters were all well developed. The character that stood out the most was Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan). Marvel finally gave audiences a sympathetic villain. Killmonger does not want to rule the world or take over Asgard; he simply wants Wakanda’s technology to be in everyone’s hands. Killmonger believes that if everyone has the technology, that it could help millions of people around the world.
In a way, Killmonger is more noble than T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman). Killmonger wants to empower–and potentially save–people. T’Challa wants to follow tradition and keep the technology hidden. However, T’Challa’s actions actually hurt people around the world. Black Panther finally gave audiences a villain that not only challenges the hero physically, but also morally. Killmonger’s ideologies also challenge the audiences’ beliefs and morals. In fact, Boseman stated that he believes T’Challa is truly the film’s antagonist.
As seen in Killmonger and T’Challa’s case, many of the characters are more developed than most MCU characters. Characters such as Spider-Man and Captain America seem to be no more than archetypes. Captain America says the same thing in every film. None of his decisions are surprising. He is a relatable character, but only on the surface, whereas Killmonger and T’Challa are relatable on a deeper level. The audience can understand their struggles because they are a little more personable. Additionally, the female characters, such as Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o), that are presented in this film actually have something to do! Not only do they matter, but they add depth to the film as opposed to being eye-candy or a damsel in distress.
A Story with a Purpose
Surprisingly, Black Panther’s story diverges from Marvel’s usual fare. The story itself draws parallels with many real-world issues. One of the central themes of Black Panther seems to be isolationism vs. globalism. For example, much of the film deals with T’Challa wanting Wakanda to remain clandestine. T’Challa struggles with the notion of Wakanda and its technology even being discovered by outsiders. The story, many times in its minute details, examines greater social issues. Many of those issues relate to being enraptured by power and the privileges–and dangers–that come with that power. These are complex issues and themes that have not been presented in previous Marvel films.
A World Made Real
The futuristic world of Wakanda is incredibly immersive. It yielded many grandiose concepts of Afrofuturism. Not to mention, it added a profound sense of pride and heart to the film. Heart and soul are the two things that have been missing from many superhero films as of late. While films such as Guardians of the Galaxy and Justice League are good fun, imagine they utilized their settings. I’d love to see a superhero film that actually used the world like Black Panther did. Furthermore, I’d love to see a superhero film that used the world in the way that Blade Runner 2049 did. Though audiences may see that kind of depth in Infinity War later this year.
Relatability and Depth Are a Necessity
The way people view superhero films could change radically if they told stories that included issues that people care about. Black Panther’s themes resonated with so many, and it is time that more superhero films do the same. For me, personally, most superhero films are pure entertainment. I do not take many of them very seriously. This is why Suicide Squad did not bother me as much as it bothered so many others. However, both Black Panther and Logan got my attention. They had more to say. Logan dealt with coming of age and death in ways I never thought possible in a superhero film. Whereas Black Panther dealt with the exclusion of bias, African culture, and so much more that I never thought possible in a Marvel Studios film.
The fact of the matter is that–in several ways–Black Panther could change the way audiences view superhero films. With fully developed characters and an immersive world, Black Panther transcended pure entertainment. It–like Logan and Wonder Woman–showed audiences what superhero films can be. They can be stories that resonate with people. Superhero films can be filled with complex characters. They can create worlds that audiences want to emulate. Maybe future superhero films will follow in Black Panther’s footsteps. Imagine a future Justice League or Captain Marvel film with extra depth and something to say, rather than just entertaining audiences. If something akin to Black Panther’s storytelling becomes the norm for superhero movies, we could be seeing a new wave of films very soon.