It’s official: “Black Panther” is now the third highest-grossing film ever in America, surpassing 1997’s “Titanic,” though it was released theatrically only in mid-February.
Even before the film opened, it enjoyed one of the most aggressive promotional campaigns in recent history and maintained first place in ticket sales for many weeks.
So when I decided to see the movie, I wasn’t sure what to expect – would it live up to the hype or would it be just another Marvel escapist movie? I was so surprised when I found the film was everything it was promised to be and more.
“Black Panther” offers more than the usual Marvel Cinematic Universe fare. It has considerable substance that speaks to our modern world. The film picks up from “Captain America: Civil War” with the return of King T’Challa, known also as the Black Panther (played by Chadwick Boseman), to his home country of Wakanda for his coronation as its new leader.
From this point forward, though, we begin to see what distinguishes this film from other superhero films. On one level, it offers an interesting balance of traditionalism and modernity.
We are introduced to a point of traditionalism with the coronation process that includes the right to challenge the future king in mortal combat. The example of modernity, on the other hand, is seen in the fact that Wakanda’s technological advancements are far beyond that of the rest of the world thanks to its secret natural resource – a special mineral called vibranium.
The film is built around three challenges facing the new king. Two of the challenges involve threats to T’Challa’s reign. One of these threats is in the form of Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis), a black market arms dealer, smuggler and general nemesis to the King and to Wakanda; your classic bad guy/good guy and good and evil script.
The second challenge comes from an American-born ex-military man, Erik Stevens, a.k.a. “Killmonger,” revealed to be T’Challa’s cousin. An angry young man who was orphaned at a young age and who experienced a race-torn world, Erik (Michael B. Jordan) becomes a formidable opponent to T’Challa. More profoundly, this challenge raises theological and moral questions around the concepts of resentment and anger vs. revenge and forgiveness.