Surprising nobody, Black Panther has proven to be another success for Marvel studios. The Ryan Coogler-directed film has received widespread critical acclaim while shattering a variety of records over opening weekend, even managing a higher box office than The Avengers: Age of Ultron. As the last installment of the MCU before Avengers: Infinity War, the movie has done justice to the franchise and further fueled the excitement and anticipation as we head into the Avengers facing the mighty Thanos.
While anyone who saw Creed, Coogler's last film, could've foretold how pleasing this would be, the picture had a lot to live up to. Besides being the first film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe to be fronted by people of color, it also had the unenviable position of coming right after last year's Thor: Ragnarok. Directed by Taika Waititi, that synth-fueled, '80s-inspired sci-fi romp was such a blast of eccentric humor, quick wit and gorgeous visuals that almost any follow-up would be made look average by comparison. But Ryan Coogler isn't just any director and his Black Panther isn't just another superhero film.
In many ways, Black Panther draws from the same fundamental philosophies that made Ragnarok so engaging. Undoubtedly a Marvel Studios work, the film is still very individually-minded, telling a more insular story while crafting its own corner of the universe. Like Thor: Ragnarok, Black Panther feels more director-driven than studio-driven and is all the better for it. And beyond just being Marvel brethren, the two movies have more in common than even they might realize.
This Page: Black Panther and Thor: Ragnarok Are Parallel Stories
Black Panther and Thor: Ragnarok Are Parallel Stories
In Ragnarok, Thor's journey is a series of reckonings – of his imminent crowning as king of Asgard, of his family's dynasty within the nine realms and of his role as a hero. After Odin dies, Thor and his brother Loki are confronted by Hela, their estranged and long-imprisoned sister and Odin's firstborn. Through Hela, they learn of the heinous, colonial past that gained Asgard its empire. The nine realms didn't exist in harmony out of mere bureaucratic agreement and compromise – they were conquered by Odin and Hela and the might of the Asgardian military. It was only after Hela's taste for expansion grew beyond his that Odin thought to lock her in the underworld, to be released upon his demise.
Such is a complete shattering of the Odin and the Asgard we, and Thor, had come to know. Beneath the prosperous Norse city of gold lies a foundation of bloodshed and beneath the vestiges of a wise old ruler lay the heart of a ruthless conqueror. It's a watershed moment for the Odinson, who is forced to reconcile his idea of home with its dark reality, and take down his own sister to protect it. Ultimately, the best way to protect Asgard turns out to be enacting Ragnarok and burning it down in order to start again with those who matter – its people.
T'Challa in Black Panther faces the opposite problem: Wakanda keeping itself hidden from the outside world in order to protect it from colonizers has begun to become an issue. Maintaining a solitary existence is what's allowed them to prosper, yes, but it's what breeds Killmonger's attempt at the throne in the movie. Growing up a fatherless child after his Wakandan father is killed by T'Challa's in Oakland, California, Killmonger dedicates himself to one day challenging to become ruler of Wakanda, as is his birthright, and outsourcing the country's weapons to cause an uprising of oppressed people of color around the world. He resents that this idyllic place where African identity has flourished without colonial suppression has seemingly done nothing for the African-American community, simply because it is not their way to invade or interfere in other countries.
And he's not wrong. The country's technology and innovations, the most advanced on Earth, would be immensely helpful to a great many people and issues around the world. Wakanda could provide humanitarian aid and outreach services to an unprecedented level if they so chose. But with letting the outside world know of their prosperity, with letting other countries and world leaders see who they really are, they become a target for the greedy and the bigoted. They're opening their uninterrupted African cultural legacy to scorn and attack, which is why they've resisted the idea for so long. T'Challa himself begins the film very pro-strict borders, anti-wider outsourcing, but goes against the will of his father and ancestry, calling them out as wrong, by deciding that Wakanda needs to come out of the shadows and be more of a global player.
Thor and T'Challa are both leaders who must forge a new path if they and their lineage is to survive. For Thor, this becomes taking his people away from the place they called home for so long to build anew, hoping that despite his father's sins they can seek solace on the shores of another world. For T'Challa, he makes Wakanda the beacon of hope and inspiration kids like Erik Killmonger never had. Rather than a place of myth, it becomes somewhere concerned with more than just itself. They're both on a journey to build a new world on what unites people rather than what divides them, on paths forged by the ingenuity of great storytellers.
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