Dissecting 'Black Panther' and Its Most Impactful Moments

Ryan Coogler's superhero film is Marvel's most political (and many say most entertaining) title yet — so let's give it a closer look.
Matt Kennedy/Marvel Studios

[Warning: This story contains spoilers for Black Panther]

Black Panther is the new king of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The film is the studio's best-reviewed movie, it's breaking box-office records and it's also the rare tentpole that's truly speaking to broader cultural moment.

The team at Heat Vision is breaking down the twists, turns and impactful moments — and is also welcoming indie filmmaker (and Marvel fanatic) Theo Brown as a guest to help process everything.

Aaron Couch: Any time a Marvel movie comes out, the immediate question becomes "Where does this rank in the MCU pantheon?" But the conversation for this movie "Wait, is this the best Marvel movie ever?" It's a fair question. I've got to go by the feeling I had leaving the theater, as well as the way that feeling lingered for days. As much as really I like most of the Marvel movies, the first Avengers, the first Guardians of the Galaxy and Black Panther are the ones that have had similar effects, where I left feeling I'd seen something truly new.

Graeme McMillan: This is, for me, the best of the Marvel movies. It feels the most complete, and the most fully realized.

Couch: Graeme, I must stop you here. This is now three Marvel movies in a row that you really liked. Am I going to have to stop teasing you about being "grumpy"?

McMillan: I'm as shocked as you are, Aaron. But this movie is just...really good. There's no over-reliance on other Marvel movies — even T'Chaka's death in Civil War is given just the right amount of flashbacks to make it feel part of this story — and enough of an emotional journey for T'Challa, but also Killmonger, to feel like a complete story in and of itself. Plus, you know, every single person in this movie is charming and the kind of character you want to see appear in multiple movies, from Okoye to W'Kabi to Shuri, who completely stole every single scene she was in. Forget about the Avengers and the Guardians of the Galaxy: Just make every single Marvel movie about these guys from now on, please. 

Richard Newby: That’s one of the things that really struck me about the movie; every character is given a viable backstory and enough setup for the future to lead their own film. [Marvel president Kevin] Feige has talked a lot about the potential for spin-offs going forward, particularly with James Gunn’s cosmic side of the MCU, but I think almost every character in Black Panther is just as worthy of that potential. And despite taking place in almost entirely single location, Wakanda feels just as rich in terms of history and location as the planets we’ve visited in the Guardians of the Galaxy films. A sequel is guaranteed, but if the MCU really wanted to continue to break new ground going forward, I think Marvel team-up-style movies with the Black Panther characters could be a good place to start. I’d pay top dollar to see Shuri team up with Valkyrie, or a Nakia and Black Widow spy movie. And then there’s Killmonger, who could have an entire movie to himself with his backstory. More Michael B. Jordan in the MCU would never be a bad thing.

Patrick Shanley: I truly love Chadwick Boseman and have been a die-hard fan of his since 42, so to see him leading a Marvel tentpole has been very exciting for me as a fanboy of his. That said, Jordan really steals the show here with much more limited screen time. I think it's not much of a stretch to say that his Killmonger is now the standard for Marvel villains.

Rebecca Sun: Seeing how capably intersectional Black Panther manages to be really underscores how little excuse there is for pretty much every other action tentpole to be giving half of the population such short shrift. There's no "token female" in Black Panther because the film is so naturally populated with multiple women who occupy distinct, multifaceted roles. Nakia is not just the love interest; she's also a spy and humanitarian. Shuri is not just a tech whiz; she's also a princess who loves goofing on her brother. Okoye is not just the head of the kingdom's special forces; she's also a woman torn between sworn duty and what her heart believes to be right. She also is no asexualized warrior; Black Panther makes clear that this is a strong black woman who also is someone's beloved.

Theo Brown: As soon as I saw it, I wanted more. More fleshed out stories about the Jabari tribe, or W’Kabi and his life as the guardians of Wakanda’s borders, or, of course, the Dora Milaje (who have given me a reason to add Rise of the Black Panther to my comic pull list). And doesn’t Shuri feel like the MCU version of Riri Williams, who created her own Iron Man suit? Just saying, it works pretty well…

Ryan Parker: Michael B. Jordan is exceptional in this movie, and I loved his character. For the first time in a Marvel film, I really believed the villain and his motivation. I even sympathized with him. It made the story just that much more powerful. For a while, I couldn't decide who I wanted to be victorious. 

CouchAs much fun as Loki is…Jordan just makes him seem almost silly and superfluous. When Jordan was cast, I half-assumed that [director Ryan] Coogler was bringing him on board for a small role out of tradition, since they are such close collaborators. The trailers did not spoil the fact that Jordan has a huge role and is as much the star as Boseman is. He is the best MCU villain, and injects more politics into the movie than even anything in the excellent Captain America: Winter Soldier. The same goes for legends like Forest Whitaker and Angela Bassett. Usually when actors of their caliber (ala Anthony Hopkins in the Thor movies) are cast in films like this, they rarely get enough to do. But that's not the case here.

Brown: I think that Jordan’s cause comes across much more urgently because he’s dealing with real stakes that are much larger than the MCU — in his mind, he’s positioned himself as an hero for impoverished Africans and African Americans across the globe. It has a bit of a heavier weight to it than Loki just wanting people to kneel and bow to him. These are real-world problems that could have real-world consequences.

Newby: I think Killmonger works as well as he does because the politics are stemming from a very emotional place. I love Winter Soldier, but its concern over potential threats feels slightly removed from the characters and is ultimately dictated by good and evil when it comes down to the wire. But with Killmonger, everything political is personal. Jordan puts him in this moral gray area by portraying him like an open wound surrounded by scar tissue.

McMillan: As Ryan said, I love how sympathetic Killmonger actually is, on multiple levels. He's wrong, sure — but he's not entirely wrong, and that tension is compelling. As is the tension in T'Challa's initial desire to keep Wakanda separate from the rest of the world, especially as a movie released right now, with the current administration threatening to become more isolationist in terms of international aid. Nakia being the voice of conscience throughout the whole thing is wonderful, and another political message, subtly: it's the woman of color who's right all along. When was the last time we got to see that in a massive mainstream movie?

Sun: Black Panther's inclusiveness reminds me of Wonder Woman's. Both films could have stayed within the bounds of their built-in marketing taglines — "the black (male) superhero movie," "the (white) lady superhero movie" — and yet took the time to do what all their counterparts dedicated to white male heroism seldom do. In Wonder Woman's case, offer brief yet poignant glimpses into the personal obstacles faced by Diana and Steve's Native American and Arab allies.

Newby: I love that T’Challa is surrounded by black women in the movie, because as much as Black Panther is a story of fathers and sons, it’s also a story of how women shape the throne and its policies. And to go back to Killmonger for a second, it’s very interesting to see how he interacts with his female accomplice, and her fate, juxtaposed with T’Challa’s relationships with the women in his life. I’d argue that Killmonger’s greatest tragedy isn’t that he grew up without a father, but that he grew up without a mother, sister, or lover who speaks her mind — or even speaks at all. T’Challa succeeds both as king and as superhero because of the women in his life, and that speaks volumes. 

Brown: Richard, I’ve been thinking about that a lot, especially after more viewings. I love that the women in the film seem to match some parallels of what women in black communities unfortunately far too often deal with — like showcasing how the mother alone is the matriarch of the family, managing her own emotions while keeping the family intact and pushing forward for greatness regardless of the circumstances. Or how being educated in the STEM fields and accomplishing high raking positions are prevalent in the women on screen; African American women are one of the most educated groups in America, statistics say. I felt like there was a lot of nods of affirmation with these things.

Parker: One of the aspects that sets it apart from other Marvel films is its pacing. I love how well it is paced. I am a huge Marvel nerd, but in most of the films, the fight scenes just go on way too long — to the point where I am almost bored. Not Black Panther. Scenes were just long enough for some great action and plot movement and then, bam, on to the next. Oh, and that car chase scene was some of the most fun I have had watching a movie in some time. 

Newby: The pacing reminded me a lot of the pacing in Coogler’s previous movie, Creed. No scene is extraneous or fails to add another important layer to a character. Plus, the characters' backstories are woven in organically. Coogler manages to position all the players in a way that makes Black Panther feel like a true ensemble piece where everyone gets in on the action and the emotional beats without bringing the film to a halt. Even Martin Freeman’s Everett K. Ross, who could have been one character too many, gets to make his mark by the film’s climax.

Shanley: And that's quite a hard thing to accomplish, yet Marvel has now done it twice — previously in Civil War and here in Black Panther. Coogler really handles screen time and character depth masterfully in this movie. The film never feels bloated, despite the fact that even minor side characters have fully fleshed out, and truly interesting, backstories. I wasn't lacking for it, but that give me even more hope for what will be a completely jam-packed Infinity War.

McMillan: Really, the only problem I had with the movie was the climactic fight, and that's because it felt too much like "two CGI guys fight each other surrounded by CGI." The earlier chase sequence avoided that, and felt wonderfully physical and real, and you're right — the pacing for almost all of the movie was far better than the other Marvel movies. I wonder how something like Avengers: Infinity War is going to feel after a movie like this?

Brown: I know that after watching the Avengers: Infinity War trailer for the umpteenth time, the fact that it seems to have a major battle in Wakanda is all the more interesting now, given the tech, culture, and diverse armies they have. I’m personally much more invested in this city than I was in Asgard (R.I.P.), so I can’t wait to see what Marvel gives us in a few months. What a time to be alive.

Parker: Did anyone else catch the Back to the Future: Part II reference in there with the shoes? That was just brilliant. Also, I love how meta it is at the end with the Disneyland reference. Normally, something like that would make me roll my eyes, but I loved it in this instance. 

Sun: Ryan, clearly you are out of touch with today's youths, because Shuri's mocking of her brother's sandals is a reference to the "What are Thooose?" Vine meme of 2015.

Couch: Guys, I think you are both right. The reference speaks both to today's youths and to the oldsters.

Sun: Either way, to me it was a stunningly hip reference that emphasized not only how organically Black Panther has tapped into the zeitgeist but also how it may be the realest MCU movie yet. I'm still marveling (pun intended) at the audacity of Ryan Coogler to use a superhero vehicle to make a movie about geopolitics and the African American experience. Killmonger's last line will haunt me for a very long time.

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