Today on the Research Log, we’re heading to Wakanda to break down the story structure of one of the biggest superhero movies of all-time, Ryan Coogler’s 2018 film Black Panther. As usual, we used the Storyclock Notebook to visualize the story in the form of a clock.
Let's Break It Down
The story of Wakanda. We find out a meteorite made of vibranium fell to Africa in a place that would one day be named Wakanda. A warrior shaman received a vision from the panther god Bast who led him to the heart-shaped herb, giving him the power of the Black Panther. The warrior became king and Wakandans used the vibranium to develop technologies that were more advanced than any other nation. While Wakanda thrived, the world around it descended further into chaos. To keep Wakanda safe they hid in plain site, guarding their people from the rest of the world.
Oakland, CA 1992. Kids play streetball outside of a run down apartment building.
King T’Chaka, the previous Black Panther, arrives at N’Jobu’s apartment as he and his friend prepare for some sort of assault. We find out T’Chaka is N’Jobu’s brother, and he is there because N’Jobu betrayed them by helping people in the outside world get Vibranium. It’s revealed that his friend is actually Zuri, a Wakandan spy. Outside of the apartment we see a Wakandan ship fly off into the night sky as a young boy watches from below.
In the present we see news footage of T’Chaka dying in a different Marvel movie. T’Challa watches from a Wakandan ship. He and Okoye are on a stealthy rescue mission. They take down a bunch of baddies and we find out they’re interrupting Nakia’s already in-progress rescue mission. T’Challa invites Nakia back home to Wakanda to join the his crowning ceremonies.
In London, a group of badass bad guys steal a vibranium hammer from an art museum. We meet Erik Killmonger and Ulysses Klaue.
T’Challa arrives home to Wakanda and we meet his mom and sister. 4 of the Wakandan tribes have a ceremonial trip to a waterfall where T’Challa can be challenged for the throne.
All of the tribes yield but at the last second, the Jabari tribe arrives. M’Baku, the leader of the Jabari, challenges T’Challa for the throne. They fight atop the waterfall and T’Challa reigns victorious!
Acceptance & Break into Act 2
T’Challa is now KING. He is given the heart-shaped herb, buried in sand, and is transported to the ancestral plane. There he sees his father, T’Chaka. His father tells him that “You’re a good man. It’s hard for a good man to be king.”
Trailer Moments/Promise of the Premise
In a classic James Bond style “Q” sequence, Shuri gives T’Challa new tech including a fancy new suit. We find out about a secret vibranium trade involving Klaue in South Korea, and T’Challa, Okoye, and Nakia head that way to capture him. At the South Korean casino T’Challa sees Agent Ross, a person he met in that other Marvel movie. He’s there to make the “trade” with Klaue. Klaue shows up to the casino with a bunch of henchmen and you guessed it, a fight breaks out! Okoye throws a wig, Klaue makes it rain, and we’re sent on a wild goose chase through the streets of South Korea. T’Challa eventually catches Klaue and nearly kills him, before Ross shows up on the scene and they instead arrest him.
Ross interrogates Klaue and Klaue starts to talk to him about the real Wakanda. Meanwhile, Killmonger sneakily gets around the security camera feeds, blows a hole in the wall and comes in guns-a-blazing. Nakia is almost killed but Ross jumps in the way and is shot. Killmonger grabs Klaue and they drive away. On their way out, T’Challa sees a ring that he recognizes around Killmonger’s neck.
Things Get Worse
T’Challa and crew have to bring Ross back to Wakanda so that Shuri can save him, unfortunately risking him bringing back Wakandan secrets to the CIA. W’Kabi is angry that T’Challa could not bring back Klaue. Speaking of Klaue, he is murdered in cold blood by Killmonger.
T’Challa asks Zuri about his uncle and Zuri recalls the opening scene of the film. He tells T’Challa that T’Chakka murdered his uncle N’Jobu after he betrayed Wakanda by giving Vibranium to the outside world in an effort to help black people across the globe. He reveals that Killmonger is N’Jobu’s son– his cousin. Killmonger grew up with a hatred for Wakanda.
Meanwhile, Killmonger arrives at the Wakandan border and presents Klaue’s dead body. They welcome him into the council where he reveals his identity and bloodline and challenges T’Challa for the throne.
Hero's Last Resort
King T’Challa accepts the challenge and battles Killmonger atop the ceremonial waterfall. It’s looking good for a bit, but quickly takes a turn for the worst.
Zuri tries to sacrifice himself to save T’Challa, but Killmonger kills him. He throws T’Challa off of the waterfall and declares himself the new king of Wakanda. The Queen, Nakia, Shuri and Agent Ross escape but Okoye stays in Wakanda to serve the new king. After drinking the heart-shaped herb and taking a trip to the ancestral plane to have a tragic conversation with his father, Killmonger burns the rest of the heart-shaped herb… all but one that Nakia sneaks away with.
Breakthrough & Rebirth/Break Into Act 3
The Wakandan crew go to the Jabari tribe for help. They offer M’Baku the heart-shaped herb to give M’Baku takes them to a man who lays in a coma in the snow… T’Challa! The king is still alive! He is given the heart-shaped herb and is transported to the ancestral plane where he sees T’Chakka one last time. He tells his father and his ancestors that they were wrong to isolate themselves and lie. He tells T’Chakka that he should have taken in Killmonger as a child and that his mistake created the Killmonger that sits on the throne today. T’Challa awakes and pleads for M’Baku to bring his tribe as aide in the fight against Killmonger, but M’Baku refuses.
Hero Gains Upper Hand
T’Challa, the true Black Panther, arrives back at the kingdom for redemption! This sets into motion the final battle: the Border Tribesmen fight T’Challa and the Dora Milaje while Okoye, Shuri, and a few members of the royal guard fight Killmonger.
Shadow's Final Push
Wakandan weapons and vibranium fly towards the outside world in automated ships. Ross has to pilot a ship to shoot them down before they can exit Wakanda. One of Dora Milaje is murdered by Killmonger and Shuri & Nakia are outmatched. W’Kabi calls in his rhinos to the battle and T’Challa is in bad shape.
The Jabari tribe shows up to the battle to support Wakanda, and eventually W’Kabi and the Border Tribe surrender. Ross destroys the final weapons ship. T’Challa falls down into the Vibranium mines to have his final computer-generated showdown with Killmonger, eventually stabbing him while the train tracks deactivate their panther suits. T’Challa shows Killmonger mercy, taking him to a clifftop and letting him watch the sunset. He offers to heal him, but Killmonger would rather die. “Bury me in the ocean, with my ancestors that jumped from the ships, because they knew death was better than bondage.”
T’Challa is king and there is peace in Wakanda. He speaks to Nakia about changes he wants to make in Wakanda and about a special project he thinks is right up her alley.
Oakland, CA 2018. Kids play streetball outside of an apartment building that T’Challa bought and is turning into an outreach center... and there’s a BUGATTI SPACE SHIP.
T’Challa makes a speech at the United Nations, opening up Wakanda to the rest of the world (not knowing that months later interdimensional aliens would land there to wage an Infinity War…).
- Oakland, CA 1992: Kids play streetball outside apartment where T’Chaka kills N’Jobu / Oakland, CA 2018: Kids play streetball outside apartment where T’Challa rights his wrongs
- T’Challa in the ancestral plane. Seeks wisdom from his father / T’Challa in the ancestral