Marvel is, in no uncertain terms, is a hit factory. For a decade they’ve churned out blockbuster hit after blockbuster hit. In recreating the comic book feel of crossover events in cinematic form, Marvel made each of their movies a must-see experience for their fans as you’d never know which film would factor into the next big installment. Of course, this style of filmmaking has generated its share of detractors, and it’s true that Marvel’s films usually suffer when they deviate from the story at hand and begin to tease future installments. The biggest of Marvel’s massive blockbusters have always been The Avengers films, the hyped team-ups between Earth’s Mightiest Heroes and the mega movie stars that portray them. That was until the world saw Wakanda. Sure, Avengers: Infinity War is dominating the box office and had the biggest worldwide opening in history. It’s still doubtful that the Marvel epic will catch its predecessor at the domestic box office. 10 years of movies were building to Infinity War but the culture was waiting decades for Black Panther.
Hot off the success of Creed, which retooled and revitalized the world of Rocky into the modern era, director Ryan Coogler would move into blockbuster territory by taking on Marvel’s classic hero Black Panther who was first introduced in Captain America: Civil War. Before anyone had even seen the film, the hype surrounding Black Panther was immense. It was the first time that a movie on this scale would feature an almost exclusively black cast and written and produced by black filmmakers. For too long the blockbuster landscape was dominated by voices that were male and white. Black Panther was going to be a big leap forward in making the blockbusters that dominate the movie business better reflect the world outside of small Hollywood circles.
Everyone knew that Black Panther, like most Marvel movies, would be a hit. Nobody could’ve predicted that it’d be one of the biggest movies of all time. As of this writing Black Panther sits third on the all time domestic box office, beating out the first Avengers and Titanic along the way. The film’s cast may be racially diverse, but the success of Black Panther can also be chalked up to how it’s incredibly diverse in its use of gender role, upending the generic standards of male heroes and damsels in distress.
Chadwick Boseman stars as T’Challa, the king of the ficiticious land of Wakanda, who as the Black Panther must face off with the power hungry and emotionally wounded Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan). Both hero and villain are captivating in Coogler’s blockbuster, with many noting how they found the motivations of Killmonger relatable to the point it’s kind of scary that the line between hero and villain is so thin. As a newly christened monarch, T’Challa has to weigh the future of his nation which has remained in hiding throughout history while simultaneously facing a threat that could very well unmake everything that makes Wakanda so special.
And yet, while Boseman and Jordan are stellar in their respective roles, it’s the women of Wakanda that steal the show in Black Panther. As T’Challa’s younger sister Shuri, young Letitia Wright instantly makes an impression on audiences. Wright’s Shuri is a lot like Q in the James Bond films, a brilliant mind crafting gadgets for the dashing hero. Only in Black Panther, Shuri gets her moments of unabashed heroism, where she takes up the call of duty to defend her homeland. Then there’s Nakia played by Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o. Once again the screenplay by Coogler and co-writer Joe Robert Cole have crafted a memorable and heroic woman, and Nyong’o, who has been hidden in way too many vocal roles since her Oscar-winning performance in 12 Years a Slave, embodies an alluring yet formidable spy. Finally there’s the scene-stealing performance of Danai Gurira as Okoye, general of Wakanda’s army. Gurira plays a tough warrior who gets some of the film’s best action sequences and yet has a tender heart under her stern exterior, which really comes to the forefront in her scenes with Get Out’s Daniel Kaluuya.
The Blu-ray disc of Black Panther as well as the Digital HD version include an array of special features, including an audio commentary track by director Ryan Coogler. As with most Marvel editions, Black Panther has a number of deleted scenes as well as a gag reel compiling all the amusing mishaps on set. Then there’s an array of featurettes which examine the making of the film from the character development, bringing the world of Wakanda to the screen, and how Black Panther differs from its brethren in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Speaking of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, there’s also a featurette that looks at how 10 years of Marvel led to cultural phenomena of Black Panther and Infinity War as well as a sneak peek at the next film in Marvel’s ongoing saga, Ant-Man and the Wasp.
The most fascinating feature that appears on the Blu-ray for Black Panther is a roundtable discussion about the character’s legacy and how that transition came across on the screen with a panel of comic writers and the minds behind the film. Ryan Coogler and co-writer Joe Robert Cole are joined by producer Nate Moore along with comics veteran Don McGregor, former Black Panther scribe Christopher Priest, and current Black Panther writer Ta-Nehisi Coates, who is also an author of numerous books and essays on the topic of race in America. It’s an all-encompassing conversation about culture and superheroes and how one particular hero can mean so much to so many over decades. The only think lacking about this varied and lively conversation are women to weigh in.
Black Panther lands on home video while it’s still playing in theaters, and still in the top ten at the box office. It’s a movie that has resonated with audiences and will continue to resonate because T’Challa is not your average superhero and the afro-futurism of Wakanda presents us with a ficitious land free from the horrors of the past and their insidious legacy that informs our present. Wakanda may be fictional, but it’s amazing to dream of a place that was never ravaged by colonialism, leaving behind a legacy of inequality and political turmoil that continues to this day. Black Panther also proves that Marvel has the ability to transcend the trappings of its genre. Marvel excels at pop entertainment, but with Black Panther the MCU entered into bold new territory, exploring challenging themes with political messages while retaining the pop sensibilities that have made them a hit factory. It’s become easy for many to write off what Marvel does because they do it so well and in such great numbers that they’ve dominated the pop culture conversation for a decade, but for the young kids who’ve never had a hero that represented them Black Panther is a beacon of hope and empowerment, and therein lies the untold value of these escapist fantasies.
Black Panther is a bonafide cultural phenomenon because of its action-packed storytelling and challenging themes that go beyond simply comic book lip service, and will remain one of the genre’s high-water marks for years to come.