Black Panther

There is a striking parallel between Wakanda and Themyscira – faraway hidden utopias which flip the privileges of our world. In Black Panther the attraction of that idea is brought out a bit more than last year's Wonder Woman. The little boy who grows up to be the villain sees the glow of a spaceship in the sky, the possibility of escape and the hope of a new world. Wakanda becomes a way to transform present day iniquities and right historic wrongs.

The best villains are those who have motives you can sympathise with. Andy Serkis is a cartoon in this film, but the revolutionary agenda of Michael B. Jordan’s Killmonger is born out of a sense of righteous anger, which pickles into murderous resentment. Chadwick Boseman’s T’Challa has to walk the line between his cousin’s urge to overthrow and institute new empires, and his father’s desire to remain detached from the concerns of other countries – isolationism par excellence. Weirdly, by making Wakanda into a superpower, the film imposes on it many of the foreign policy responsibilities the United States takes on as the world’s policeman.

T’Challa’s dilemma is overlaid with a personal responsibility to a cousin abandoned by his father, and by his fatherland. The absent father is a common experience in the black community, which the film broadens out into a failure to express solidarity generally. Wakanda’s problems are partly of its own making.

These ambiguities are what make the film such an intriguing watch. T’Challa manages to quash Wakanda’s imperialistic turn, but also opens up the country through humanitarian outreach – there are aid programs but no military bases. Difficult questions (on foreign intervention, reparations, the legacy of slavery or the return of cultural artefacts) are referenced but remain unresolved. Then again, there’s only so many digressions a superhero film can sustain without becoming ponderous. Black Panther takes on some heavy ideas, but wears them all lightly. It’s a finely balanced piece of work, and yet more proof that Marvel Studios know exact what they are doing.

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