‘It’s hard for a good man to be king.’
The first teaser trailer for Black Panther is finally here, and it looks incredible. If there was ever any doubt about how Black Panther, one of Marvel’s more enigmatic and under-appreciated superheroes, would fare on the big screen, this two-minute spot should put those fears to rest. There’s political intrigue, a sci-fi utopia, and plenty of action to look forward to, with a largely black cast put right on center stage.
But more than being just generally entertaining, this trailer is dense. Director Ryan Coogler has clearly done his homework on Black Panther lore, pulling in threads and ideas from some of the character’s best stories over his 50 year history. Let’s break some of them down.
Potential spoilers ahead.
OUTSIDERS LOOKING IN
Right off the bat, it should strike you that a movie trailer about the first black superhero in mainstream comics opens on a meeting between two white characters. That’s almost certainly by design. We’ve met both of these characters before and they provide a window into a world that has been a complete mystery to us and the Marvel Cinematic Universe up until now.
Let’s start with Everett K. Ross, played by Martin Freeman. He was first introduced in a minor role in last year’s Captain America: Civil War, but he’ll play a major part in this film as T’Challa’s (Chadwick Boseman) key American ally. His role pulls directly from Christopher Priest’s classic 1998 Black Panther run, where Ross is a hapless government agent assigned to keep an eye on T’Challa during a diplomatic crisis. Just like in the comics, he initially knows little about Wakanda. But is he ever going to learn.
Across from him is the one-armed Ulysses Klaw (Andy Serkis), a traditional Black Panther villain who was first introduced onscreen back in Avengers: Age of Ultron. He’s a gangster and smuggler who’s been trying to steal Vibranium — the metal Black Panther’s suit is made of — from Wakanda, the hyper-advanced African nation where T’Challa is set to rule as king. He’s likely a pivotal figure in the unrest T’Challa will have to face as ruler.
A KING RETURNS
The crux of the film looks like it’ll have to do with T’Challa returning to Wakanda to claim the throne. His father, King T’Chaka, was killed in Civil War, so it’s now up to T’Challa to rule and deal with the drama that comes with his new duties.
It’s from his point of view that we really see Wakanda for the first time. The first place we see is Warrior Falls, where his coronation will take place.
This gives us a peek at how Coogler has envisioned Wakanda for the film: a techno-utopia that features both futuristic airships and traditional culture. It’s beautiful to behold, but also hints at how complicated life in the country is. T’Challa will have to balance his responsibilities as a monarch with his life as a superhero, and that’s going to be a difficult task. King T’Chaka (John Kani) even returns to do voiceover in the second half of the trailer, intoning, “You are a good man with a good heart. And it’s hard for a good man to be king.”
ENEMIES AT THE GATE
A major challenge for T’Challa will be the factions vying for supremacy in Wakanda, a theme writer Ta-Nehisi Coates touched on in his recent run in the comics. Wakanda has numerous tribes across its numerous regions with varying levels of influence, even though the Black Panther is the leader of the entire country. One powerful figure among those tribes is Man-Ape (Winston Duke), another Panther villain who appears late in the trailer.
However, the core villain looks like it might be N’Jadaka, otherwise known as Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan). Killmonger, who first appeared way back in Don McGregor’s epic 1970s Jungle Action comic run, is a Wakandan exile who holds a powerful grudge against T’Challa’s father. He’s the mental and physical equal of the Black Panther in the comics, and once even managed to best T’Challa in combat at Warrior Falls.
Some of Wakanda’s most powerful figures, both in the comics and in this trailer, are women. The most visible ones are the Dora Milaje, Black Panther’s royal guard and traditionally his wive-in-training. They all kick ass. There’s Ayo, played by Florence Kasumba and first seen in Civil War. (You might also recognize her from Wonder Woman, where she played the Amazon Senator Acantha.) She doesn’t play around. In the comics, she even helped lead a revolution against Black Panther himself.
There’s Okoye, played by The Walking Dead’s Danai Gurira, the leader of the Dora Milaje. And there’s Nakia, played by Lupita Nyong’o. Nakia fell deeply in love with T’Challa in the comics, and her obsession with him eventually made her an enemy. We’ll see where Coogler takes their story in the film.
Even beyond the Dora Milaje, the royal family is sure to be formidable. Angela Bassett plays Queen Mother Ramonda, and even though we see her briefly, she’s sure to play an important supporting role to T’Challa. And then there’s Princess Shuri (Letitia Wright). First introduced in Reginald Hudlin’s Black Panther run in 2005, she’s T’Challa’s kid sister. She eventually goes on to become a Black Panther and Queen of Wakanda, but that’s probably a ways off.
One more thing. That purple blast before we see Black Panther flip off a destroyed car almost certainly comes from his suit, meaning we’ll get the chance to see what he can really do. The vibranium armor T’Challa wears is arguably as advanced as Tony Stark’s Iron Man armor, only with the emphasis put on stealth and agility instead of flight. With it, he can fire powerful energy blasts, scale buildings, and take gunfire without so much as blinking an eye.
There’s so much more that we still don’t know about what’s to come for this movie. (Which is good! Trailers really shouldn’t give everything away!) But there’s plenty to be excited about, particularly for new and long-time Black Panther fans.
Black Panther hits theaters on February 16th.