Did You Watch ‘Black Panther’ This Weekend? Let’s Talk Spoilers. Do you hear that sound? That clamorous rumbling? It’s hoards of moviegoers rushing to see “Black Panther” like so many vibranium-plated super rhinos.
Here is your official spoiler alert. (I repeat: spoiler alert.) We will be discussing the ins and outs of Marvel Studios’ zeitgeist swallowing, record-smashing, let’s talk about the movie’s most memorable moments and burning questions. Have thoughts? Share them in the comments section.
The film’s first peek at the super-advanced nation of Wakanda. Credit Marvel/Disney. “Black Panther” just feels different than the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies we’ve come to know, and a large part of that is due to its setting. Wakanda is a gleaming metropolis where ancient aesthetics, stunning natural resources and the most advanced technology on earth weave together as part of a rich and distinct tapestry.
The world building starts at the very beginning — with that dazzling animated sequence that illustrates the history of Wakanda and its five tribes — and continues through visually arresting set pieces like the ones at Warrior Falls and the ancestral plane. The New York of the Avengers movies is about as exciting as a strip mall by comparison.
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Now that the director Ryan Coogler and the production designer Hannah Beachler have put an afrofuturist paradise on Marvel’s chessboard, the question is what will the company do with it? Will it become, as some on social media have suggested, the black Star Wars, with spinoff movies and TV shows that further explore the movie’s mythology and cast of characters?
Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o) and T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) go undercover in Busan, South Korea in “Black Panther.” Credit Matt Kennedy/Marvel and Disney
Let’s state the obvious: this movie is very black, possessing a broad-spectrum, Pan-African blackness. There are many small moments that spoke directly to the African-American audience (did your theater erupt when Shuri re-enacted the “What are those?!” meme?
Or when she and T’Challa shared that secret handshake?) and still others, like T’Challa’s sandals and the dancing at Warrior Falls, that felt recognizably African. But perhaps the bigger achievement of the movie is just how natural this all felt. It’s an argument for the difference a black director and crew can make on a blockbuster. What small moments or cultural references stood out to you?
T’Challa’s little sister Shuri — an irreverent tech prodigy who’s part Q from the James Bond movies and part Penny from “Inspector Gadget” — arguably steals the movie. It should be a star-making performance for Letitia Wright (she previously appeared in the most recent season of “Black Mirror” in the episode “Black Museum”). In the comics, Shuri eventually succeeds T’Challa as Black Panther. Might she get her own spinoff movie? Or a teen-oriented cartoon show? At the very least, expect her to play a prominent role in the inevitable sequel. mother of the bride dresses for beach wedding
Danai Gurira as General Okoye, the leader of the Dora Milaje, in “Black Panther.” Credit Marvel Studios/Disney, via Associated Press
It’s not just the portrayal of the African diaspora in “Black Panther” that pushes boundaries, it’s that of the women. This is the rare superhero movie that doesn’t treat the female characters like ornaments or seasoning and even passes the Bechdel test.
What did you make of Okoye (Danai Gurira of “The Walking Dead”) and her all-female fighting squad? Okoye’s wig-throwing and car-surfing-in-a-red-dress scenes in South Korea were among the film’s most indelible. But was her romance with W’Kabi (Daniel Kaluuya) believable? Was it necessary?
M’Baku, the chief of the renegade mountain tribe, starts out as a third-tier villain in the movie but ends up being unexpectedly heroic and pivotal to the plot. If not for him, T’Challa would have been belly up in a river somewhere while Killmonger waged World War III from the Wakandan throne.
The 31-year-old actor who plays M’Baku, the Tobagonian-born, American-raised Winston Duke, is a relative unknown (he’s had supporting roles on the TV shows “Person of Interest” and “Modern Family”) but infuses the role with gravitas, wry charm and incendiary wit. If there’s any justice in the world, he’ll be starring in a romcom next year.
A character that several critics have called the most compelling Marvel villain to date, Erik Killmonger is a unique and thoroughly American revolutionary. His bloodthirsty vision (of sweet revenge for centuries of oppression visited upon African-descended peoples around the world) is provocative because, viewed from the right angle, it offers a convincing approximation of justice.
Was his primary critique of Wakanda — that it has selfishly shirked its responsibilities to other African nations and the diaspora — ultimately correct? Or was T’Challa right that isolation to the point of invisibility was the only way to ensure that Wakanda never met the fate of its subjugated sister nations? Killmonger’s final line: “Bury me in the ocean with my ancestors who jumped from ships, because they knew death was better than bondage” is among the film’s most trenchant, and one of the hardest to believe actually exists in a Marvel movie.
The white characters
In a film almost entirely populated by black faces, the two main white characters — one a marauding thief (Andy Serkis as Ulysses Klaue), the other an intermittently useful ally (Martin Freeman as CIA agent Everett Ross) — are a study in contrasts. Ross, the butt of several jokes in the movie (Shuri taunts him as a “colonizer”), exists as a kind of corrective to the “white savior” characters that are standard in earlier Western films about Africans. What did you think of the character and how did your theater react to the jokes at his expense?
To the politically minded, the Wakanda of “Black Panther” offers an almost too perfect rebuttal to President Trump’s comments in January in which he referred to African nations with a disparaging expletive. (Of course, the film was completed well before those comments were made.)
In the first of two post-credit sequences, T’Challa addresses the United Nations with a speech that includes this line: “The wise build bridges, while the foolish build barriers.” Is that a pointed reference to the proposed border wall? Or just an apropos aphorism for Wakanda’s climactic embrace of internationalist foreign policy?