After the success of Ryan Coogler’s two films Fruitvale Station (2013) and Creed (2015), Marvel brought in the director to work on Black Panther, the last installment of eighteen MCU films spanning ten years and three phases before the release of the long-anticipated event Avengers: Infinity War. In this review, we discuss the film that premiered this Valentine’s weekend. As the title of this article suggests, there will be spoilers, so if you have not yet seen the movie, do so now and return to this article later.
Many centuries ago, five African tribes fought over the rare alien metal called Vibranium. A warrior is given superhuman abilities and becomes the first Black Panther after ingesting a small heart-shaped herb affected by the metal. The tribes–excluding the Jabari tribe–unite to become the nation Wakanda, utilizing the metal for themselves and posing as a Third World country as a means to separate themselves from the rest of the world.
In 1992, Wakandan king T’Chaka and the Dora Milaje–an all-female special forces of Wakanda serving the country’s king–arrive at an apartment in Oakland, California to check in on Prince N’Jobu–an undercover agent and T’Chaka’s brother–and reveal that he has been working with another undercover agent, Zuri. One of the agents has betrayed his country by dealing Vibranium with Ulysses Klaue.
In the present day, T’Chaka’s son T’Challa–taking over his father’s position as king and Black Panther–returns home after the events of Captain America: Civil War. As the Panther, he helps rescue his ex-lover Nakia from an undercover assignment. Meanwhile, at the Museum of Great Britain, Erik Stevens and Klaue stage a heist to take a Wakandan artifact. While there, Erik also steals an African mask.
At his coronation ceremony, T’Challa proves himself to be the new king after defeating–and sparing the life of–the Jabari Tribe’s leader M’Baku/Man-Ape in a ritual combat. He is stabbed in the abdomen and is then given a blue herbal medicine to restore his health. He visits the ancestral plane where he stumbles upon a tree of black panthers, who turn out to be previous Black Panthers. While there, he meets his father.
T’Challa–assisted by his 16-year-old sister Shuri–travel to Busan, South Korea at his friend W’Kabi’s behest to stop Klaue from selling the stolen artifact. (W’Kabi’s parents were killed as a result of Klaue’s actions.) While on the assignment, they cross paths with CIA agent Everett K. Ross. After an intense car chase, the king is urged not to take Klaue’s life. Instead, Ross takes Klaue into custody, but during an interrogation, Erik–now going by the name Killmonger–and his group breaks Klaue out of confinement. Ross is critically shot during the attack, prompting T’Challa to bring the agent to Wakanda, where Shuri saves Ross’ life.
Elsewhere, after Klaue refuses to take Killmonger to Wakanda, Killmonger kills him and his group. T’Challa confronts Zuri about his uncle. Zuri reveals that T’Chaka hesitantly murdered N’Jobu in Oakland, ordering Zuri to lie that N’Jobu had disappeared. They left behind a young Erik–revealed to be N’Jobu’s son and T’Challa’s cousin–to “maintain the lie.” Ross heals and awakens, only for Shuri to tell him he is apparently in Kansas.
Killmonger takes Klaue’s body to Wakanda, revealing himself to the tribal elders and challenging T’Challa for the throne in a ritual combat. T’Challa learns that Killmonger is a graduate of Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the United States Naval Academy. He succeeds in the combat, fatally stabs Zuri. and dumps T’Challa’s body over a waterfall. Killmonger claims the throne and follows in his father’s footsteps, initiating the trade of Wakandan weapons to operatives around the globe. He orders for all the Vibranium-affected plants to be burned to ashes, but Nakia escapes with an herb.
Shuri, Nakia, Ramonda (T’Challa and Shuri’s mother), and Ross flee to the icy mountains of the country, where they seek help from the Jabari tribe. While there, the four find T’Challa’s comatose body; he was found frozen in a river. He was rescued in return for sparing their leader’s life. After Nakia restores his life with the herb, T’Challa asks for M’Baku’s help in taking down Killmonger, but the Jabari tribe leader refuses. (One female character returns a Black Panther necklace to T’Challa after saving it from the likes of Killmonger.)
T’Challa returns to Wakanda with Shuri, Nakia, and Ross. Killmonger–now wearing his own Black Panther armor–starts sending out shipments of weapons, but T’Challa takes down a jet. Nakia and Shuri join Okoye and the Dora Milaje in fighting off Killmonger, trying to take his necklace as a means to relieve him of his Black Panther armor. Meanwhile, Ross pilots a jet to shoot down air transports leaving Wakanda. Rhinoceroses wearing armor are brought into battle, but the Jabari join in to help take down Killmonger and his followers. Shuri is almost killed by Erik, but T’Challa jumps in and takes Killmonger down into the country’s Vibranium mine. While there, T’Challa uses the sonic stabilizers to disrupt Erik’s armor and mortally wound him. The battle ends, and T’Challa offers to restore Erik’s health and imprison him, but he declines, dying free as the sun sets.
Shortly after, T’Challa and Shuri travel to a vicinity in Oakland where the former claims he bought a few of its buildings–one of which is where Erik’s father N’Jobu was murdered–and establishes an outreach center to be run by his sister and Nakia, integrating Wakanda into the world. A Wakandan jet lands on a basketball court. A young kid asks who T’Challa is, and the screen cuts to credits.
- In a mid-credits scene, T’Challa speaks to the United Nations in Vienna to reveal Wakanda’s true nature to the rest of the world.
- In a post-credits scene, Bucky Barnes wakes up in an African hut, only to be greeted by Shuri.
- T’Challa/ Black Panther
- The king of Wakanda and son of T’Chaka who takes the throne after his father’s death. After the events of Civil War, he learns the importance of life and death.
- Erik Stevens/ Killmonger
- T’Challa’s cousin and son of Prince N’Jobu who plans to claim the throne in order to avenge his own father’s death. He has a scar on his body for every person he has killed.
- T’Challa’s younger sister who designs new innovative technology for Wakanda
- T’Challa’s ex-lover and member of the Dora Milaje
- Everett K. Ross
- An agent of the CIA who previously dealt with Wakandan affairs during the events Civil War
- Leader of the Jabari tribe
- Leader of the Dora Milaje
- T’Challa’s confidant and best friend, and head of the Border Tribe, Wakanda’s first line of defense
- Elderly Wakandan statesman in charge of the heart-shaped Vibranium-affected herbs
- Ulysses Klaue
- A South African criminal who joins forces with Killmonger. After having his arm severed by Ultron in the second Avengers movie, he wears a prosthetic arm made from Wakandan mining equipment, acting as a sonic disruptor arm-cannon.
Coogler’s Black Panther does a fantastic job of portraying Africa and its culture on the big screen with a predominantly black cast. In addition, it also covers the themes of life and death, loyalty in royalty, and family.
Their fathers’ deaths have both T’Challa and Killmonger stray down different paths, the former using his inheritance for justice and the latter wanting to use Wakanda’s resources as tools–since Vibranium powers its streets and weapons–to his own advantage. Following T’Chaka’s death, T’Challa takes his father’s ring and takes over the mantle of the Black Panther. The same can be said for Erik, who takes his grandfather’s ring. In the ancestral plane, they find that there is a significance to living and that your fate relies on the choices you make. T’Challa questioned everything he’s believed in after learning of his father’s actions towards N’Jobu. He chose to be the better person because of it. Erik, on the other hand, was taught that “death was better than bondage.” One character even says, “Everybody dies. That’s just life around here.”
While the primary protagonist and antagonist are both loyal to the dead, they receive loyalty from the living and, in turn, learn what it truly means to hold power as kings. T’Challa’s credibility as a leader–his appeal to ethos–is what drives his sister Shuri, his ex-lover Nakia, and the Jabari tribe into remaining loyal to him. Erik’s claim to his birthright, his notion that the country’s resources should be shared with the rest of the world, and his evidence proving he deserves the throne–e.g. stating that “black folks start revolutions without Wakanda” or that Wakanda and its people would choose to save themselves over other people–are what drive his followers such as W’Kabi to be loyal to him. The question “What are you loyal to?” is even brought up at one point in the movie. Wakandans are taught to “serve [and] save [their] country.”
Like some previous MCU movies, this film weighs heavily on the gravity of family, and this is prominent in the dynamic between T’Challa and his family members as well as in the dynamic between Erik and his father. It teaches us to “praise the ancestors.”
The film is filmed beautifully, although it has some CGI issues here and there, especially with T’Chaka’s freaky eye in the ancestral plane scenes. It’s full of great camera angles and shots, proving that “Wakanda is the most beautiful thing you’ve seen.” The aura of the country and the events that occur in it has a resemblance to both The Lion King and Star Wars. The ritual combat scenes were authentic, heavy, and intense.
(In a scene at the beginning of the film where Nakia is being rescued from confinement, Wakandan characters ask if T’Challa “froze” during the extraction. This may have foreshadowed his comatose body being frozen and found by the Jabari tribe after being defeated and thrown over a waterfall by Erik Killmonger.)
There are also some comedic scenes throughout the movie. This includes Klaue tells Killmonger how he strategically kills his victims during the museum heist, Everett Ross bringing up the concept of Soundcloud rappers, Shuri referring to Ross as “another broken white boy for [her] to fix,” and Shuri mentioning Wakanda having hoverbikes, but M’Baku arguably steals the show with the scene taking place up in the icy mountains.
Black Panther also does not hold back on its political stance. When M’Baku is asked for assistance in fighting Erik, he allows everyone but Everett Ross to speak. Characters even refer to Ross as a “broken white boy” and “colonizer.” Erik Killmonger proves a point with his perception of the world around him. He said, “Black folks start revolutions without Wakanda,” implying that–despite the country being a fictional place–people had to solve problems on their own, which is already difficult enough. He asks the Wakandan council why they can defend the poor but choose not to. Dora Milaje leader Okoye, played by actress Danai Gurira (The Walking Dead), argues that people such as T’Challa fight because “they fight when necessary.” During the museum scene, Killmonger speaks to a curator about the Wakandan artifact, asking, “How do you think your ancestors got these?” His role and T’Challa’s role is similar to that of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr., two political figures who also sparked the creation of Marvel characters Magneto and Professor Xavier, something Killmonger actor Michael B. Jordan even mentioned in an interview. W’Kabi, a character portrayed by actor Daniel Kaluuya (Get Out, Black Mirror), even mentions both sides of the spectrum: “the conquerors or the conquered.”
The musical score–scored by Ludwig Göransson (who also worked on Community, Fruitvale Station, Creed)–and the soundtrack are also magnificent aspects of the film, although we only hear a small fraction of the soundtrack’s songs in the actual movie.
Overall, Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther was executed perfectly and made in such a way that you can tell where the director and his team were heading in terms of direction. The movie will forever have a cultural impact on its audiences. Although their time on screen was short, Andy Serkis’s Ulysses Klaue and Forest Whitaker’s Zuri played vital roles in the story. Killmonger’s motives as the antagonist were somewhat reasonable, and this puts him somewhere at the top list of best MCU villains to date. He teaches us that when anger overcomes you, “you have become the enemy.” (Audiences preferred that he had more time on the big screen.) With its beautiful cinematography, intense action sequences, heavy themes, cultural element, harmonious musical score, and remarkable plot, the film proves to be feasible on its own and also as an integral installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. For that, the film deserves a 9.8 out of 10.
Easter Eggs, References, and Trivia Facts:
- Helmut Zemo
- This film follows the events of Civil War, and we even see news articles of that film’s Sokovian antagonist.
- Orb from Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
- Early on in the museum heist scene, we get a glimpse at the museum’s artifacts. One that really stuck out bore a striking resemblance to the orb that contained the Power Stone.
- Joker from The Dark Knight (2008) and Michael Fassbender’s Magneto
- Comic book fans likened Erik Killmonger’s dark side to that of Heath Ledger’s Joker. In fact, Michael B. Jordan even revealed the late actor to be an inspiration behind Killmonger. He even compared Black Panther’s villain to the character Magneto from X-Men: First Class, Days of Future Past, and Apocalypse.
- Bane from The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
- In the first ritual combat scene, M’Baku breaks T’Challa’s back. This might remind fans of a famous scene in The Dark Knight Rises where the hero’s back is broken.
- “What are thoooooooose??”
- In spite of the deceased characters found throughout the film, Black Panther brought an old meme back from the dead, and it was done in an unpredictable manner. When Shuri presents her brother T’Challa her newest invention, “sneakers,” she looks down at his feet and says, “What are thoooooooose??” revealing him to be wearing toeless shoes.
- James Bond
- The casino scene has a covert spy vibe going on when T’Challa and his team attempt to take down Klaue. The director himself confirmed that the film and the titular character pays homage to the James Bond franchise and its main protagonist.
- “Bulletproof catsuit”
- In the casino scene, one character mentions the Black Panther costume being a bulletproof catsuit. This is probably a continuation of the joke that T’Challa is into cats, which started with Sam Wilson/Falcon in Civil War.
- Stan Lee cameo
- During the casino scene, legendary comic book writer Stan Lee makes his signature short appearance in the movie as a casino patron. After T’Challa meets Agent Ross at a gambling table, he places down some coins and walks away. Ross says he won, but Stan Lee jumps into the scene and takes away the win.
- Soundcloud rappers
- The casino scene also contains a short comedic dialogue that features Everett Ross asking, in a joking manner, if someone would like to hear Klaue’s mixtape.
- The Accords
- Towards the end of the South Korean car chase scene, T’Challa and his team subdue Klaue. Right before he is about to kill the South African criminal, one member of his team tells T’Challa that the world is watching. We see a number of South Korean citizens recording the event. Knowing that this film takes place after Civil War, T’Challa must have shown restraint after remembering having signed the Sokovian Accords.
- “What Is Love?”
- After being taken into Agent Ross’s custody, Klaue is seen in an interrogation room singing Haddaway’s popular song from the early-1990s. This is good placement since Black Panther is released on Valentine’s weekend.
- “Broken white boy”
- When Shuri is given an incapacitated Everett Ross, she says, “Great, another broken white boy for me to fix.” This is a reference to Bucky Barnes, who was last seen in the Marvel Cinematic Universe being brought to King T’Challa and his Wakandan people by Steve Rogers/Captain America in during Civil War‘s mid-credits scene. More on this later.
- A twist like Luke Cage
- The revelation where T’Challa discovers his enemy is his blood relative is similar to that of Luke Cage‘s first season where the eponymous character finds out that Willis Stryker/Diamondback is his half-brother. Although, the film’s twist is played out better than the Netflix show’s.
- The Wizard of Oz shoutout
- When Ross awakens to find himself in a strange room, he asks where he is. Shuri tells him that he is in Kansas. This might be a reference to the classic film where the main character awakens in a magical place.
- Public Enemy poster
- A Public Enemy poster is seen in a room of the flashback scene taking place in Oakland, California, 1992.
- The Lion King and Star Wars vibes
- The film has a huge Lion King feel. From one father killing his own brother to our young-looking hero being dropped down a cliff, there’s no doubt this could be a coincidence. Black Panther also has a Star Wars aura with its technologically advanced lifestyle and scenery.
- Power Rangers
- Take this with a grain of salt, but somehow the Black Panther armor functions like that of Power Rangers armor.
- Train scenes in Marvel movies
- Although the Vibranium mine doesn’t necessarily have trains, the final fight scene between T’Challa and Killmonger dodging the sonic stabilizers is very close to that. Take this, too, with a grain of salt.
- Coachella and Disneyland
- At the end of the film, T’Challa and Shuri travel to Oakland, California. We see them on the basketball court young Erik Killmonger was at when his father was murdered. While on the court, Shuri says she thought T’Challa was going to take her Coachella or Disneyland. The latter is a shoutout to the theme park owned by the Walt Disney Company. This is probably a means to self-advertise themselves.
- Alex Hibbert from Moonlight (2016)
- By the end of the movie, T’Challa and Shuri reveal themselves and their glorious Wakandan technology to the world. They start in Oakland. A group of street kids see a Wakandan ship and speak about taking it apart and selling its pieces. One of the kids is played by Alex Hibbert, who portrayed character Chiron Harris as a child in Barry Jenkins’s award-winning film, Moonlight.
- As wealthy as Bruce Wayne
- Similar to how Killmonger is compared to Heath Ledger’s Joker and how Jabari tribe leader M’Baku is compared to Bane, we see King T’Challa at the end of the film pulling off a move that Bruce Wayne/Batman would do. When he and Shuri arrive at a basketball court in Oakland, where the former tells his sister that he bought all of the buildings in the vicinity, including the building where their father murdered Killmonger’s father, Prince N’Jobu. One could even say that Black Panther is the Batman of the Marvel Universe.
- Credits scenes explained (for more details)
- Mid-credits scene – United Nations announcement
- King T’Challa steps up to a podium before the United Nations and brings Wakanda out from the shadows, a feat his father was attempting in Civil War moments before his death. This is also something that occurred remotely ten years ago at the end of Iron Man where Tony Stark revealed to the world his superhero identity and everything related to that.
- Post-credits scene – White Wolf / Avengers: Infinity War set-up
- Sargent Bucky Barnes is awakened in an African hut by children. He gets up and walks out, only to be greeted by Shuri. The locals call him “White Wolf,” which, in the comics, is the name of a classic Black Panther villain.
- Mid-credits scene – United Nations announcement
Don’t fear any longer. King T’Challa/Black Panther, Bucky Barnes/The Winter Soldier, Shuri, and Okoye will return in less than three months. Avengers: Infinity War releases on May 4th, 2018, and will be the biggest Marvel Cinematic Universe event culminating from twenty-two films and three phases.
Which character was your favorite? Which Easter Egg did you love the most? Are there any you found that we have not included on the list? What did you think of the film? Let us know! For more Black Panther and Marvel Cinematic Universe-related news and reviews, follow Geek Motivation on Twitter (@GeekMotivation) and Instagram (@geekmotivation).
Written by: John Tangalin