Anne and I saw this on Saturday — wow. I am not a comic book, “Marvel Universe,” or big-budget movie fan by any stretch of the imagination, but this was one of the better movies I’ve seen in a while. It helps that the story basically stands by itself, without any need to know much else about the story world it inhabits, and it also helps that the big-budget effects were done both well and tastefully, but what really made this movie was that the story it told was actually really good.
Sorry, spoilers ahead!
The basic gist of the story is that the African nation of Wakanda, which outwardly seems like a pastoral, somewhat isolationist third-world country, is secretly the most advanced nation in the world thanks to its vast stores of the super-material “vibranium.” Prince T’Challa becomes king (and Black Panther) when his father is killed at the UN, then finds himself battling a rival for the throne — his cousin: abandoned as a child in America, MIT graduate, Army Ranger, trained in destabilizing nations, and bent on vengeance — who wants to use Wakandan technology to defeat the oppressors of black people worldwide. Big crises of loyalty and policy, and one huge Wakandan battle: Black Panther defeats his cousin but then decides to reveal Wakanda’s power to the world, to help better mankind.
There was a bit more to the plot than that of course; that was just the outline of the action, and there was a lot more to this movie than just plotline and special effects. I thought that the characters were really believable, which is a pretty big deal considering they were jumping around in bullet-proof cat suits, and felt a great deal of sympathy even for the villain.
There were also echoes of other things in there: “vibranium” reminded me of the “vitanium” of Sheena of the Jungle, which played a similar role in that movie, and in each movie there was at least some reference to burial in the healing earth —Sheena more so than Black Panther, but still. These both reminded me of the Herero woman in Gravity’s Rainbow, buried up to her neck in the earth to cure her infertility. I spent at least part of the morning Googling Herero mythology and related things, trying to find out more about this and didn’t find much, but this was just one example — there seemed to be quite a bit in Black Panther that tapped into something that felt archetypal, almost mythical.
I also managed to spend some time Googling various minor characters and scenes, especially some “Easter eggs” in the closing credits: they were unobtrusive, and this movie didn’t require you to get or understand them, but there were references to other Marvel stories and characters which actually made me want to find out more, like maybe see the other movies. Marketing FTW!