MILD SPOILER ALERT
Jeffrey Wright, a black Brit, plays American CIA agent Felix Leiter opposite Daniel Craig’s Bond.
Here, Martin Freeman, a white Brit, plays a CIA agent opposite Chaswick Boseman. The photo-positive – because you turn the colour up – nods to Bond continue in a casino sequence.
The entire movie subverts that franchise’s purported misogyny. The strength of the female characters is awesome, and there isn’t a bad performance among them. Angela Bassett as a matriarch is a presence of stability. Danai Gurira leads the Dora Milaje, a group of women comprising the royal guard, in a role where she places civic responsibility over the personal.
There’s a cultural richness to the Africa-set film that the continent itself shares, and it’s a movie aimed at everyone, and speaks to everyone. It pokes fun at racism in numerous ways. It shows how vested interests might win out temporarily – illustrating it in a hilarious fashion – but ultimately, humanity is all on the same team. This is played up by the fact that Michael B. Jordan takes the role of chief villain. Viewer expectation is confounded wonderfully by the performance.
Patriarchal roles are taken by Forest Whitaker as the avuncular antithesis to Idi Amin, and John Kani (previously seen in Captain America) playing the murdered king.
There are nods to Hollywood blockbusters and tv series where people of colour are rarely the stars, and perhaps nods too to dynastic (white, male-dominated) US politics, the Star Wars franchise, and even Newton’s Third Law. The humour is universal. And it stays true to the mildly glib tendency of the Marvel movies to use backstories such as the war in Afghanistan or the Holocaust as plot devices.
In truth, Africa’s resources have been pillaged and exploited by the powers to the east and west of it. Here, Wakanda’s resources have been protected by its status as an African El Dorado, as described by Klaue, a South African thief played by an excellent and deranged Andy Serkis.
Letitia Wright as Shuri takes the role of sister to Boseman’s hero with a sense of fun and warmth that will touch you if you have such a relationship with a sibling. There are beautifully funny scenes between the pair.
Lupita Nyong’o is another powerful female presence as ex-girlfriend Nakia. If everyone had an ex to rely on like T’Challa/Black Panther has, the world might be a better place.
It’s a testament to the movie’s depth that there’s so much to unpack, so many facets to admire, so many arcs that could have carried a trilogy, so many rounded and well-drawn character archetypes with which to identify, so much wonderful subversion. Yet the movie has a very solid resolution.
This origin story has so much going for it, and establishes multiple possibilities for the future of the franchise. Move over, Guardians of the Galaxy. This may be our favourite Marvel movie to date.