There’s nothing generating more hype at the moment than the upcoming Black Panther movie, which opens Friday. Momentarily, when we thought Oprah was going to be our next commander-in-chief, we let that hypomania exceed Black Panther hypomania. But now we’re back to Black Panther. The premiere of the much anticipated Marvel movie set Twitter ablaze and had everyone confirming the greatness that would soon be available for public consumption.
As someone not well versed in the Marvel universe, or any superhero universe for that matter, I don’t know a ton about what to expect. Though I understand the hype. Black Panther feels culturally monumental. Ryan Coogler (of Creed) is directing, and Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong'o, Daniel Kaluuya, Angela Bassett and Chadwick Boseman are involved. It’s a narrative of a thriving all-black community and it tells the story of Marvel’s foremost black superhero. In a society so fraught with racial tension, this movie, this supposedly very good movie, is healing and celebratory. That rules. It really does. But I’ve watched the trailer a few times, and each time I feel like I’ve chugged a Red Bull (in a good way?), but leave with literally no understanding of what’s going on (which, coincidentally, is what happens when I chug a Red Bull). So for those superhero laymen like me, who are excited about this movie but could use more context, here are some rhetorical FAQs, the answers of which should tell you everything you need to know going into the film.
Let's start at the beginning: who is the Black Panther, other than Chadwick Boseman in a cool-looking superhero suit?
The Black Panther, né T'Challa, is the king of a fictional country in northeast Africa called Wakanda, which is concealed from the rest of the world. (Each successive king of Wakanda are called Black Panthers.) T'Challa is still mourning the death of his father (T'Chaka), who perished during the movie Captain America: Civil War—not, like, while he was watching the movie in a Wakandan theater or whatever, but during the actual movie itself.
Tell me more about this African country.
Well, years ago this giant meteorite hit the territory and released a bunch of vibranium all over the frickin' place—
You can't just say things like "vibranium" and continue on as if I know what that means.
Vibranium is a precious fictional metal with some powerful mutagenic properties. It also absorbs sound and kinetic energy, which makes it super strong. For example, Captain America's shield is made out of vibranium. So that's chill for Captain America.
Naturally, other nations want to exploit the Wakandan people for this scarce and valuable resource, which should ring some bells as far as real-world associations go. Therefore, T'Chaka took it upon himself to magically conceal Wakanda from the rest of the world. Textbook T'Chaka.
What are the current Black Panther's superpowers? He does have superpowers, right?
Given his position, he's entitled to eat the Heart-Shaped Herb that's absorbed some good vibranium. This gives him superhumanly acute senses, reflexes, strength, endurance, speed and healing powers.
So he's less a one-trick superhuman pony, à la Storm, and more of an all-around solid superhuman?
That's one way to put it, yes. He's an all-around solid superhuman.
Who is the villain here? Tell me it's not the dreadlocked Michael B. Jordan...
Sorry, but it is. Jordan plays Erik "Killmonger" Stevens—not generally a good guy's nickname—a Wakandan who grew up in Oakland and has returned to seize power over his native kingdom from the Black Panther. He employs some Wakandan Mutates, who kind of got the raw end of the vibranium deal, so to speak, but are pretty savage kind-of-people.
You mentioned Daniel Kaluuya, Oscar nominee for Get Out, is in this thing?
He's one of the Black Panther's closest boys.
Tight. What about Lupita Nyong'o?
She plays Nakia, the Black Panther's former flame and an operative of the Dora Milaje.
The Dora what?
The Dora Milaje. It's basically the Wakandan equivalent of the secret service, except they're all women. And they're all presented as potential queens for the king. It's an HR nightmare.
Is this movie going to be as good as it's hyped up to be?
It kind of seems like it? It's directed by Ryan Coogler, who previously directed Fruitvale Station and Creed, and the cast is stacked. It's also been breaking pre-sale ticket records left and right. And if early reviews are any indication, it's going to do very well on Rotten Tomatoes. It opens February 16th nationwide. You should probably go see it.