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Michael B. Jordan shines in Marvel’s latest superhero blockbuster

The villain steals the show in smash hit ‘Black Panther,’ but not without a fight

Miles Whitworth, Photo Editor
Originally published March 29, 2018

‘Black Panther’ brings to the table a memorable cast of characters and a genuine conflict that stands out from the cookie-cutter plotlines of Marvel’s recent movies. It turns the traditional protagonist-antagonist dynamic on its head, making it hard to distinguish who truly is the bad guy. Ryan Coogler’s film arrived in theaters late January embracing the weight of some demanding tasks.

As Marvel’s first big release of 2018 it was under pressure to perform financially at the box office in addition to the massive responsibility of being the first blockbuster “superhero” film with a predominantly black cast. It at the very least surpassed that first requirement, racking up a billion dollars in just 26 days and joining an exclusive group of high-earning films

Chadwick Boseman stars as the titular character, leading a phenomenally well-rounded ensemble that includes Michael B. Jordan as T’Challa’s nemesis Erik Killmonger, and Lupita Nyong’o as the undercover spy Nakia. Danai Gurira, Letitia Wright and Daniel Kaluuya shine in their respective roles and Martin Freeman and Andy Serkis are thrown in there to spice things up a bit. Each brings their own iconic personality to their part, avoiding what could easily have been a mess of characters.

The story follows T’Challa as he struggles to cope with his father’s death while simultaneously fulfilling his duties as king of Wakanda, a hidden African nation with technology the rest of the world can only dream of. The source of Wakanda’s wealth and prosperity is the powerful vibranium (as in the vibranium that Cap’s shield is made of), but the nation also relies on their secrecy, hiding behind the impoverished visage displayed to the rest of the world. Wakanda’s stability is threatened when arms dealer Ulysses Klaue (Serkis) and Erik Killmonger begin hunting down Wakandan artifacts and ultimately challenge T’Challa’s claim to the throne.

Killmonger, played by the frustratingly buff Jordan, challenges the concept of what it means to be a villain in a superhero movie (though it’s hard to call “Black Panther” a “superhero” movie anyway due in part to the Wakandan characters’ desire to be low-key). As a kid growing up poor in Oakland, Erik missed out on the majesty that is Wakanda, giving him both an understandable jealousy of his wealthy relatives and sympathy for black people around the world that go about their lives unhelped by their affluent brothers and sisters in hiding.

Jordan plays this to perfection, striking the perfect balance between hardened black-ops soldier and resentful, forgotten child. From the very beginning to the end, his bravado and redemption contrast delightfully with Boseman’s equally impressive restraint and poise. In an industry not known lately for being introspective or thought-provoking, it’s refreshing to have a dynamic where you could feasibly root for either side. Director Ryan Coogler, helming only his third feature film, also strikes a balance, his between letting this interpersonal conflict play out and giving fans the spaceships and enemy bashing one expects from a Marvel film.

“Black Panther” manages to maintain the hallmarks of the Marvel Cinematic Universe while still allowing you to leave the theater feeling like your time was well spent. Coogler shows his indie roots with the focus on storytelling; it would be nice to continue seeing that type of care and imagination in the multitude of blockbuster films that we get every year.

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Michael B. Jordan shines in Marvel’s latest superhero blockbuster