Movie lovers who watched one of the most anticipated films that premiered across the globe this week walked out wondering whether it was impossible to overstate what Black Panther means.
To many, the superhero diversity and its story is, and will always remain, the same. The question is, “What do we want from a superhero movie in 2018?” Or rather, “what is fair to ask of a superhero movie?”
Black Panther arrives in the middle of this heavily mined, fracked and plundered story landscape, which was led by an action-packed trailer that did not, for the first time, feature a culture dominated by white superheroes. Rather, it was an almost entirely black main cast.
Before we go any further, let me say that the fact that Black Panther exists is wonderful. To me it was an unmitigated thrill watching a non-white superhero jumping around and kicking butt, surrounded by an almost completely non-white supporting cast and what seemed to be a more healthy balance of male and female butt-kickers.
In Black Panther,T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) returns home as king to a fictional African nation known as Wakanda, but finds his rule challenged by a long-time adversary in a conflict that has global consequences.
The film, shot in Atlanta - US, and Busan - South Korea, features established actors like Angela Bassett, Forest Whitaker, our very own Lupita Nyang’o, Danai Gurira, with rising stars Letitia Wright and Oscar nominee Daniel Kaluuya also making their presence felt.
The film has been given a rapturous reception from both critics and cinemagoers, enjoying a 98 per cent fresh rating on reviews website Rotten Tomatoes, despite a pushback campaign to bring the rating down.
Told with jovial wit and at a fast pace, it begins with the origin of the myth about Wakanda, a mountainous African country assumed by the rest of the world to be poor and backward. An ancient meteor strike brought the miracle substance, vibranium, to the area enabling Wakandans to build the most advanced civilization on Earth and cloak it under an invisibility shield.
Its monarchy was established by a panther goddess who lent her superpowers to an ancestor of T’Challa, who has inherited those powers and is now king.
Speaking to ActScene, IMAX Marketing Manager Flora Njagi said that Black Panther was one of the biggest movies to premiere in Kenya.
“We have never seen such a reception in this country. In Kisumu, it was all pomp as people celebrated one of their own.”
She added that despite Lupita’s absence at Kenya’s premiere, it drew several hundred people and did not dampen the atmosphere. “It was an exciting moment when Lupita mentioned Kenya in the movie and the viewers went wild after she said, ‘These are my friends from Kenya’.”
But despite all this, is it worth cheering? When we’re done celebrating what it represents, what we’re left with is a fairly standard superhero movie.
The car chases and hand-to-hand combat sequences are fun, even if at times a bit disorienting. Some fight scenes are shot up close and in the dark and it can be hard to tell who’s hitting who. And some sort of battle rhino makes an appearance.
Despite that, there are some funny moments, with characters like T’Challa’s sister Shuri (Letitia Wright), and M’Baku (Winston Duke), a rival tribal leader, providing some much-needed comic relief. You will also enjoy, without giving anything away, many plot points that feel too similar to things that have happened in previous superhero movies.
By the end of the movie, you will walk out thinking less about what makes it average and more about what makes it special. Most importantly, in Kenya, people were happy to celebrate Lupita.
“She couldn’t be here in the flesh, but for her fans, Lupita’s presence in the poster on display at the premiere next to the red carpet in Nairobi and Kisumu was enough,” said Ms Njaigi.