At the Movies: Black Panther

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As usual I try to keep this spoiler free but I sometimes reference stuff so if you’re trying to keep your mind virginal until you see the movie, maybe stop now.

Up to this point in the MCU, global catastrophes have largely been concentrated to (or originate from) New York City. Sure, Doctor Strange took us locations like Nepal  and bizarre alternate dimensions, but ultimately the final showdown happened where? New York City. The Avengers even began their career defending what? New York City. Avengers 2 took us to Sokovia, but where did everything start?! That’s right. New York City. Black Panther represents our first genuine worldview into the MCU away from North America and the Avengers.

Black Panther’s fortunately continues the trend of better storytelling in MCU films, and represents a pleasant departure from the seemingly cookie-cutter nature of past MCU films. The movie doesn’t feel like another origin story instead focusing on a post-Civil War T’Challa coming to grips with his new position as king of Wakanda. What unfurls is plot that keeps things grounded to themes such as family and legacy in a very trippy, high-tech adventure.

Wakanda is an absolutely stunning location: an unfamiliar yet not totally alien mix of modern fashion with impossible future technology. It’s fun to see a world even Tony Stark (presumably) doesn’t know of, with technology that makes his inventions look like cheap crap.

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I came to really enjoy Chadwick Boseman’s T’Challa, a somewhat reluctant hero only in that he is comfortable pummeling people but is well aware fighting and leading a nation are two wholly different things. This makes T’Challa, in my eyes, the most compelling character the MCU has at the moment. Yes, Captain America, Iron Man, and Hulk are all symbolic heroes, but none have the literal ability to enact widespread change quite like T’Challa can, who is an actual leader.

Like the last few Marvel films, women have taken an increased role in the fun, especially this time around with the stunningly badass head general Okoye (Danai Gurira) and T’Challa’s at-times unavailable love interest Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o). They aren’t the only ones kicking ass throughout the film, but they share a good portion of Black Panther’s 2hr 14min runtime in meaningful ways other than being given screen time to jack people up.

Ok, so some minor potential spoilers going forward.

I’m thankful Black Panther gave us a villain with actual reason other than insane global/galactic domination dreams. Erik Killmonger, despite what his name would imply, is a very sympathetic character. Orphaned at a young age and abandoned by the royal family he would come to learn of, Killmonger is driven by the knowledge he was literally thrown away to cover up a devastating secret for T’Challa’s father. Forced to be raised as an orphaned black boy on the streets of America, Killmonger became embittered and rage filled at the idea there is a place that could help disenfranchised blacks around the world but instead opts to live in secrecy with their technology. Admittedly at the same time, while I understood why Killmonger a total fuck boy, it felt a little too much especially when it came time to be taken serious as a regicidal usuper.

At the film’s core are two sons fighting for their fathers’s legacies: T’Challa seeking to be a great ruled like his father, while Killmonger wishes to proliferate vibranium weaponry worldwide to literally cause an armed uprising among blacks worldwide. T’Challa goes through the heroes journey of learning it was a mistake to want to follow in the past’s footsteps and must pay for its sins in the form of an overwhelmingly devastating Killmonger.

And because it’s the Internet, I’m sure there are some crocodile tears over the seemingly “racist” nature of Black Panther being a predominantly black-casted film. In no other uncertain terms, much of Black Panther is lifted by the cultural elements infused in nearly every pore of the film. This isn’t meant to be familiar, this is meant to show an extraordinary world within an already large, extraordinary world. By the end of the film (as much as I want to spoil it), it really feels like now that we know of Wakanda it’ll be hard to ignore how much it will definitely influence the MCU in years to come.

Without spoiling too much (more), my largest regret was how quickly Andy Serkis’ villain, Uysses Klaue (or better known in the MU as Klaw), came and went. Serkis easy captured the scenes he was in, even if sometimes it felt difficult to understand his maniacal gibbering. Regardless, he was gleefully evil presence in a movie filled with lots of gray space.

Black Panther is a legit fun movie and a breath of fresh air for a genre I feared was getting stale. While much of our good will shall eventually give way to the orgy that is Infinity War I and II, for now its exciting to see where Wakanda can take the MCU before the aliens start dropping from the skies again. We’ve been to outer space, to the edge of metaphysical reality, but we’ve yet to visit a place so culturally distinctive (and frankly as critical) as Wakanda.

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