BY RICHARD SUPLEE GEEK SPACE CORRESPONDENT Black Panther (2018) is the best superhero movie I have ever seen. Not just the best this year, not just the best since Captain America: Winter Soldier (2013) or Tim Bruton’s Batman (1989) not just the best with a person of color superhero. Just The Best. Period. The film was already hyped due to Disney’s Deaths Star size PR department but it is actually quality. Director Ryan Coolger (Creed, Fruitvale Station) brings the Marvel country of Wakanda to life. And he slams it right into the rest of the world. Wakanda is the most advanced country in the world with flying cars, laser canons and large supplies of the precious metal vibranium. Captain America’s laws-of-physics-defying shield is made of this miracle alloy. And it is the key to Wakanda’s wealth, prosperity and astonishing technological advancements. Keeping a low profile, the African nation masquerades as an obscure Third World nation to avoid anyone from invading the country and taking control of the largest vibranium mines on Earth. The conflict between Wakanda engaging with the global community, and possibly bringing about world peace versus self-preservation via anonymity is what drives every aspect of the movie.
The plot goes like this: Chadwick Boseman’s T’Challa is crowned king of Wakanda after his father’s death in Captain America: Civil War. T’Challa is stripped of his powers to even the odds for the ritual combat of Wakandan kingship. Once done we see the Heart-Shape Herb that grants T’Challa, and all Black Panthers before him, peak human strength and conditioning. The powers are the same as Captain America’s but with a herbal supplement rather than super steroids. Like most crazy things in Wakanda the herb is laced with vibranium. But it also has mystical qualities. The herb produces a type of spirit dream in T’Challa who speaks with the spirit of his father and the panther goddess Bast. T’Challa is a young king, unsure of himself, but not satisfied with the Wakanda status quo. He wonders if Wakanda’s miracle-working tech and bottomless natural resources obligates it to help the world outside its borders.
Michael B. Jordan’s Erik “Killmonger” Stevens agrees that Wakanda should be a part of the world at large. The former US special forces soldier is Marvel’s best on-screen villain ever. He is physically intimidating, highly talented, and has a plan that comes together. And the film even gives a more personal reason to his feud with T’Challa than the comic book version did. In 1992 T’Challa’s father discovered his own brother helped the arms dealer Ulysses Klaw (Andy Serkis), steal Vibranium from Wakanda. But the king left his nephew, Erik, behind to keep Wakanda’s ban on outsiders intact. Killmonger grew up in Oakland with only the fairytales of his father’s homeland to hope for. He grew up seeing oppression everywhere while fighting for “freedom” all over the world. And he knew Wakanda did nothing to stop this. Even as millions of people of color were caged, beaten and sold into slavery, Wakanda did nothing. And so Erik uses his royal blood to challenge T’Challa for the throne. And he wins. He tosses his cousin’s body off a waterfall to end the challenge. And then he consumes the Heart-Shaped Herb and Wakandan army to send weapons of mass destruction to their spies all over the world.
Predictably, T’Challa predictably survives and defeats his cousin, he has become a better man. He reverses Wakanda’s foreign policy of isolation and begins providing global aid. The technological exports alone will be game-changing. Among Wakanda’s many scientific and medical advancements, T’Challa’s prodigy of a sister Shuri (Letitia Wright) has developed ways to heal a severed spine in hours. And, it turns out, Wankanda is also a credible military power. The Dora Millaje, Black Panther’s personal female bodyguards and Wakanda’s special forces unit (with the comic idea of them being potential brides for Black Panther thankfully missing), are able to go toe to toe with both CIA agents and superheroes. The rank and file of the Wakandan army includes advance aircrafts and soldiers that ride vibranium enhanced rhinoceroses into battle. This army will be useful when the intergalactic warlord Thanos invades Earth in Avengers: Infinity War this May.