“Black Panther” redefines superhero genre


Christopher Perez/Guilfordian

Equal parts action-packed and intrigue-filled, Marvel’s “Black Panther” is an instant classic. The dialogue is sharp and witty. The action sequences are both seamlessly elegant and ruthlessly brutal. The visuals are stunning. The main characters are likable and nuanced, and the narrative itself is clever, shrewd and thought-provoking. It’s everything viewers could want from a Marvel movie and more.

What separates “Black Panther” from other Marvel movies, however, is the kind of representation that it provides for those of African descent. Too often in movies, black people are relegated to the role of the complaisant sidekick, the brainless thug or the hypersexualized Jezebel. They aren’t allowed to be human, to feel and breathe and love and live life in the same nuanced manner that their white counterparts are. In “Black Panther,” though, black people are at long last given the opportunity to be complex and nuanced and complicated. They have layers to them. They are, by all cinematic standards, fully fleshed-out characters.

Best of all, “Black Panther” is so unapologetically African in its depiction of Wakanda, the fictional homeland of the eponymous Black Panther. The movie redefines refinement itself, by way of showing that the most technologically-advanced country on earth isn’t some effete European superpower, but an uncolonized African nation, where dark skin is seen as beautiful, natural coils and kinks are viewed as both professional and powerful, kente cloth garments are the style of choice and women are power brokers in their own right.

And if we’re being honest here, while T’Challa, who is the Black Panther and the king of Wakanda, may hold all the cards as his nation’s leader, it is the women in his life who decide how those cards get played. The Wakandan royal guard is made up entirely of highly-trained women; at least one leader of the tribes T’Challa rules over was an older woman; the dowager queen Ramonda, T’Challa’s mother, effortlessly balances being a loving mother and a savvy political power player; and Shuri, who is everyone’s favorite character, if theater-applause is anything to go by, sits not just as the Black Panther’s little sister and a witty, spirited princess in her own right, but as the brains behind the Black Panther suit itself. Yes, the person behind one of the most powerful weapons in the Marvel universe is a 17-year-old black girl, who Marvel writers say actually surpasses Tony Stark in terms of sheer technological genius. Feel free to bow down.

Now, one could argue that the romance aspect in “Black Panther” was seriously underdeveloped, but the actors involved did such a good job that even the pickiest of hopeless romantics won’t entirely mind how cursory the romantic scenes were. Plus, nobody goes to Marvel movies for the romance, anyway. It’s the fight scenes that have viewers hooked. But other than the romantic scenes, “Black Panther” hit the target at every level. The visuals were mind-blowing, the character depth left people feeling sympathy for a villain who, in any other movie would have been portrayed as nothing more than a violent thug, and the message of unity that the movie espouses is a timeless lesson in and of itself. Overall, this critic would give the movie five stars. The the only question that remains is: when is the second “Black Panther” movie coming out?