The character of T’Challa / Black Panther has existed in the canon of Marvel Comics since his debut in Fantastic Four No. 52 in 1966.
Stan Lee and Jack Kirby created him as the first black superhero in the Marvel Universe. They did so with a clear vision of wanting to avoid all the cliches that could easily be attached to such a character.
That desire to avoid cliches and stereotypes is seen in “Black Panther,” the latest movie from Marvel Studios.
The movie takes place primarily in the African nation of Wakanda. To those on the outside, Wakanda is just another poor, developing nation.
But beyond the facade, it is a highly technological country with a deep history of scientific achievement.
The movie begins with two stories from the past.
The first is the story of how Wakanda came to be. A meteor falls to the Earth in Wakanda and deposits a metal known as Vibranium.
It is upon this metal that all the technology and advances are built. Wakanda is the only country where it can be found.
The second story is from 1992, where T’Challa’s father (John Kani) goes to confront someone who is a citizen of Wakanda and has aided Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis) in stealing a large amount of Vibranium.
At the end, we see a young boy playing basketball outside look up and see lights from the aircraft that leaves to return to Africa. It is as if he is looking at something he will only see and never have.
These stories weave into the larger fabric of the narrative.
The central story is about how T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) ascends to the throne after his father is murdered at a United Nations meeting.
T’Challa comes home to go through the ceremony of coronation. A part of the ceremony is the call to any other who would come and battle T’Challa for the right to be king.
When he is crowned king, he will also be the Black Panther, the protector of Wakanda and its people.
As the film moves on, we are introduced to Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan). He is a former Navy Seal and a Black Ops hand. He has a connection to Wakanda, which will bring sorrow and trouble to T’Challa.
Comic book-based movies get much grief. Many people feel they are merely lightweight entertainments not worthy of consideration. They exist only as being nothing more than movies for children and fan boys.
But “Black Panther” is different. This is not just a movie. It is an event.
First, we have to consider that this is a vision of Africa that no one has ever produced.
It is not the exploited country with poor people barely hanging on and looking to the white man to give them what they need to live. It is not a story about how Africa is exploited by other countries.
This is a vision of a proud, strong people who are more advanced than any of the other Western countries. This is a vision that inner-city youth need.
Even the choice of Killmonger as villain is wonderful. Michael B. Jordan gives us the streetwise, fast-talking, angry young man we think of, but there is within him a vulnerability that is real. The viewers find it hard not to be sympathetic to him and his cause.
Also, we get to see a vision of women that is rare in film. The women here are strong, and they do not fall down before men. They fight with the same vigor as any man. And they are smart.
I found the most refreshing character in the movie to be Shuri. She is T’Challa’s sister and the scientific wiz who built all the advances that Wakanda enjoys.
Letitia Wright plays Shuri with a great confidence and with just the right dash of comedic undertones.
All in all, “Black Panther” is a masterpiece of a film.
Ryan Coogler, who directed and co-wrote it, creates a vision that transcends any other attempt to create a superhero movie. I often tell people not to go to movies; go see directors. Coogler is a director who you need to watch.
This is not merely a superhero movie. This is much more. And to miss it would be a mistake.
Michael Parnell is pastor of Temple Baptist Church in Raleigh, North Carolina. He is married and has two boys. His love is for movies, and he can be found in a theater most Fridays.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for prolonged sequences of action violence and a brief rude gesture.
Director: Ryan Coogler.
Writers: Ryan Coogler and Joe Robert Cole, based on characters created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby.
Cast: Chadwick Boseman (T’Challa / Black Panther), Michael B. Jordan (Killmonger), Lupita Nyong’o (Nakia), Danai Gurira (Okoye), Letitia Wright (Shuri), Martin Freeman (Everett K. Ross).
The movie’s website is here.