You remember those board games from times of yore that were for ages 8 to 80? Modern event films use that template, known as “four-quadrant,” to make movies that everyone wants to see.
Case in point: Black Panther. Not only does the latest Marvel film have all the superhero hijinks we’ve come to expect from such spectacles — it also sports a majority black cast.
Black Panther celebrates diversity unlike any superhero film previously. Admit it, when Don Cheadle as War Machine replaced Terrence Howard in the Iron Man series, nobody noticed outside of the African American community. If Robert Downey, Jr. had been replaced by, say, Edward Norton as Iron Man, the roar from the social media cave dwellers would’ve been deafening.
On a side note, three actors have played Hulk — Eric Bana, Norton, and Mark Ruffalo — however it’s only after 2008, and Ruffalo’s green-skinned angst, that the Marvel Universe really became a meme. The Bana Hulk was an art film helmed by Ang Lee and didn’t receive wide acclaim, and the Norton Incredible Hulk (although released in 2008) was stymied by the fact that it didn’t coincide with the massive Comic Con mentality that meshes with the current trend in superhero movies.
Nobody needs to feel bad about Disney making money, hand over fist, with their 2018 slate, what with Black Panther followed by A Wrinkle in Time, only to be stalked by Avengers: Infinity War, which will be hounded by Solo only to be followed up in the summer by Incredibles 2 and Ant Man and Wasp. And lest we forget, Disney just bought 21st Century Fox, so shareholders will also cash in on Deadpool 2 and Red Sparrow. Ready Player One from Warner Brothers is literally the only movie from a competing studio on the upcoming docket that will give Disney a run for their money
Back to Black Panther — the movie has a serious spine. All throughout we’re addressing third world problems as if they were first world problems. Even when the film changes plot and course at the one-hour mark, the themes remain constant.
Black Panther, a.k.a. T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman), lives in a paradise named Wakanda.
Wakanda is hidden from the modern world by virtue of an ancient meteor with supernatural tributes that landed in the tiny African country and imbued it with a technological superiority that has been obscured by rainforests and computerized deception up to this very moment. This isolated community is, in essence, a utopia only known to its inhabitants.
You don’t want to know plot details like the evil Klaue (pronounced “Claw” and played to perfection by a one-armed Andy Serkis) trying to harvest the secrets of Wakanda’s tech. You just want to watch the whole affair unfold before your eyes in a magnificent yet kind of innocent splendor.
Members of the main cast include Michael B., Jordan (who has appeared in director Ryan Coogler’s superior films like Fruitvale Station and Creed), Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Daniel Kaluuya (Get Out), Angela Basset, Forest Whitaker (along with his son Denzel Whitaker), and scene-stealer Letitia Wright, among others. Martin Freeman has the only substantial white role in the film. Freeman played Bilbo in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Here he is the “Tolkien” white guy.
In the film, there are scenes where the citizens of Wakanda debate about letting immigrants of any color coming to live in their technologically superior society. It’s at such moments that Black Panther reaches the pinnacle of its subtext.
A coda promises that Wakanda will now share its futuristic science with the world.