‘Black Panther’ lacks plot, makes up for it with message

BT ATHENA FOSLER-BRAZIL

 

Marvel Studios’ “Black Panther” was one of the most antiipated films of 2018 for its action, special effects, cast and political message. In most ways, the film lives up to the hype.

 

The plot revolves around the fictional African kingdom of Wakanda, which was once hit by a meteor made of the powerful element “vibranium,” giving the country such power that they were able to resist white colonialism and build a civilization with technology far more advanced than anything else on Earth.

 

Vibranium is what fuels the technology of Wakanda, but it is also what gives the eponymous hero, or T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman), his powers. The details of how the element works are vague, and this is one of the most persistent plot holes. Vibranium acts as the miracle cure, reviving people, providing superhuman abilities and powering the most deadly weapons on Earth. At points, it seems like vibranium is the real hero carrying the plot, not the characters.

 

The film’s effects almost distract from the lack of plot. Not only is the film’s technology fascinating, but the visuals of the Wakandan landscape, flora and fauna make the film a pleasure to watch. Black empowerment is worked into every aspect of the film, from the concept of an African kingdom untouched by colonialism to the almost entirely black cast and director.

 

This is director Ryan Coogler’s first large-scale production, after receiving acclaim in 2013 for his writing and direction of Fruitvale Station, which focuses on racial tensions in Oakland and features Michael B. Jordan. Coogler is from Oakland himself, and the city is heavily featured in “Black Panther.”

 

The movie’s antagonist Erik Killmonger (Michael B Jordan), the long-lost cousin of T’Challa, has intentions to take control of Wakanda and arm and liberate oppressed blacks across the globe. Killmonger is introduced as a violent, resentful vigilante who kills anyone who tries to stop him, and his body is marked with scars representing each life he’s taken.

 

While Killmonger’s actions are cruel and violent, as the plot progresses the viewer feels increasing sympathy for the orphaned fighter. The rage and resentment he feels against Wakanda is not only for himself, but for all oppressed African ancestors, and while his methods are extreme, the message he preaches is one that is relevant, hard-hitting and definitely part of the 2018 zeitgeist.

 

Jordan’s portrayal of Killmonger is one of the reasons the movie is so entertaining. He is charismatic, sarcastic and complicated, bringing humanity to an otherwise ruthless villain. He gives a brilliant performance opposite Boseman, who plays the part of the noble hero gracefully. These two performances, alongside Lupita Nyong’o, Angela Bassett and many other powerful female leads, give the film dimension and remind viewers that, at the end of the day, a film is only as good as its actors.

 

One of the few places “Black Panther” is lacking is in the fighting sequences. The first fight takes place in Wakanda between T’Challa and one of his challengers in a fight for the crown. The scene occurs on the side of a canyon in the middle of a flat spot in the waterfall. The royal population of Wakanda chant and drum while T’Challa and his adversary fight it out. The scene is well done with a beautiful and dramatic setting, well-choreographed fighting and gleaming muscles, but while this scene is good, it is not good enough to get by on basically repeating, the next time with T’Challa and Killmonger fighting instead. This fight is almost exactly the same with the addition of Michael B Jordan’s muscles and more monologuing.

 

“Black Panther” is entertaining, powerful and has just enough political message to feel more important than most Marvel Universe movies. The incredible female characters give black women a much-deserved opportunity to appear powerful in the media, and while the plot lacks in places, it holds the viewer’s attention.

 

Multi-dimensional characters and the powerful message live up to most of the hype, and we now wait in anticipation for Black Panther’s return in Marvel’s next “Avengers” film.