Is “Black Panther” The First Truly Fantastic Marvel Movie?

Matthew Loffhagen
Marvel
(Photo: Marvel)

When a new Marvel movie comes out, and the internet gushes uncontrollably, nobody’s particularly surprised.

After all, this is Marvel we’re talking about – the studio that has perfected the art of churning out above average if formulaic movies time after time, thrice a year. Whatever arcane magic they’ve managed to harness in order to produce their films, it’s not exactly newsworthy when people like what they create.

Throughout the MCU, though, there have been few if any films that transcend their source material to make a greater point.

This can best be encapsulated when looking at “Spider-Man: Homecoming”, the first Marvel Studios attempt at a film that Sony has been making for decades, over and over.

When “Homecoming” hit theaters, the buzz was positive, but not overwhelming. A lot of oldschool fans expressed a nostalgic fondness for the more auteur-driven Sam Raimi “Spider-Man” movies (the first two, at least), and were disappointed that this new film was fluffy and light, without any of the dramatic weight that the original two Spidey movies achieved.

More so than any film in Marvel’s history, “Black Panther” has the potential to be about something (well, something beyond the idea that smashing action figures together is fun). The movie, and its title character, are literally named after an equal rights movement, so in the right hands, this film could send a powerful message, the likes of which we rarely get from the MCU.

While the review embargo remains in place, according to the initial buzz from early viewers, this “Black Panther” hits it out of the park, creating a life-affirming experience that’s left some members of its audience feeling motivated and empowered.

Of course, early reports from fans don’t always accurately reflect how a wider audience will receive a film.

It’s entirely possible, as with films like, say, “Suicide Squad” and “Batman v Superman”, that “Black Panther” could enjoy early popularity, followed by a steep decline in interest.

Alternatively, “Black Panther” could be the new “Doctor Strange” – well regarded at the time, but ultimately so forgettable that nobody really rates it a couple of years down the line.

With “Black Panther”, though, it’s hard to imagine this film going away; the story, character, and setting, are far too important to the cultural landscape.

We’ve had superheroes of color before, but never has the world seen such a large, big-budget production that’s designed around celebrating African culture. While many of the facets of the imaginary nation of Wakanda are fabricated, it’s likely that, as with “Wonder Woman”, the sheer appeal of seeing an overlooked minority in a starring role will be enough to elevate this film in the public consciousness.

Later this year, we’ll see “Avengers: Infinity War”, and that’ll likely be a big deal.

In terms of cultural relevance, though, it’s hard to imagine any (any) Marvel movie topping “Black Panther” as the most important, inspirational, motivational film that the studio has ever produced.

Now all we have to do is wait and see whether it’s as good as everyone says.