5 things we learned on the set of Marvel's superhero spectacle 'Black Panther'
Black audiences will see themselves reflected in a way they haven’t before when the Marvel superhero makes his big-screen solo debut.
ATLANTA – Brandishing claws and a high-tech supersuit, Black Panther hunts dangerous game. But the newest Marvel movie superhero also cuts a deadly cool figure undercover in secret-agent threads.
On this chilly winter weekday, the set of the high-profile Black Panther movie (in theaters Feb. 16) has been turned into a South Korean casino. The newly minted African king T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) is sans mask and accompanied by allies — Wakandan spy Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o) and Okoye (Danai Gurira), head of the Dora Milaje, T’Challa’s all-female secret service — on a stakeout amid craps and pai gow tables.
The black-market arms dealer Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis) is in Busan to sell a stolen piece of precious Wakandan vibranium to an American, and the heroic trio is on the case.
It’s not apparent whether Black Panther takes his martinis shaken or stirred, since soon an all-out brawl breaks out, but Boseman enjoys "how he adapts to different situations, the espionage of it," he says. “We get to let down our coattails a little bit.”
Nyong'o loves how it's reminiscent of Kill Bill and "cool" James Bond flicks. "There’s that vibe of ‘Things could go down in here.' "
Here's what we else we learned on the set of Marvel’s newest cultural touchstone:
'Black Panther' is chock-full of real-world relevance.
Wakanda is the most technologically advanced nation on the planet — though it maintains the guise of a third-world nation to hide this secret — but how the African nation should act on the world stage marks the film's biggest conflict between T’Challa and chief villain Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan). Black Panther tackles timely topics such as isolationism, colonialism and resource control, ideas that are present in the comic books, director Ryan Coogler says. But "these concepts were things I was wrestling with personally, even before getting the call” from Marvel.
The film offers a bevy of wonder women.
From his mom (Angela Bassett) to his genius little sister (Letitia Wright), female characters “have a big imprint on how T’Challa rules,” says executive producer Nate Moore. And a few are not to be trifled with: Okoye is a formidable general with a wicked spear and fighting skills (“She’s about form but she’s also about getting it done,” Gurira says), while Nyong’o reports that Nakia is “a woman of the world” when it comes to throwing down, with a style boasting jujitsu, judo, mixed martial arts from Thailand and Indonesia, and African battle techniques. Adds Boseman: “They are not women just being told what to do. They’re women who can break your neck.”
Look out for a ‘Hobbit’ reunion.
The new film marks the first time in six years that Serkis and Martin Freeman have worked together: In The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, Serkis reprised his Lord of the Rings role as the wretched Gollum alongside Freeman’s traveling hobbit Bilbo Baggins, and in Black Panther, Klaue runs into CIA agent Everett Ross (Freeman). “The last time we sat opposite each other was in a dark cave and not a casino,” jokes Serkis, whose nihilistic bad guy is out for vengeance against the Wakandans. Meanwhile, Ross gets his world rocked when aligning with T’Challa. “He’s seen some stuff, but there are still so many things in this movie that completely flabbergast him,” Freeman adds. “Genuine awe is nice to play.”
Romantic sparks are flying.
While on their casino stakeout, there’s definite flirtation between T’Challa and Nakia, who’s also his ex. “Will there be any trouble tonight, Ms. Kenyan heiress?” he asks smoothly. “It depends on how quickly we finish the mission,” she serves back. A lot of Marvel heroes don’t get proper romances — it took five movies for Chris Evans’ Captain America just to get one kiss. (“Poor fellow,” Boseman smiles when reminded.) With T’Challa and Nakia, “we have an opportunity here to show something different,” Boseman says. “It is a beautiful thing, having that moment where you have a person that you feel something for.”
Wakanda is fictional, but its influences aren’t.
While many depictions of futuristic Africa lean very Egyptian, Moore says, filmmakers opted to pull from all over the continent to “make Wakanda a place that was of this Earth but was more advanced than anything you’d ever seen.” It was a decision championed by Nyong’o. “My heart has been arrested some days when I see what has been created,” says the Kenyan-raised actress. “I remember one day there were all these extras in incredible garb with the hairstyles and whatnot, and I said to Ryan, ‘The little African child in me is leaping and crying right now.’ These are the things of dreams.”