Black Panther 2018
I’m still working on getting back into the swing of things here but I did manage to get out to the theaters to see the latest Marvel movie even though I missed the last two. Luckily, this falls in line with the end of the previous phase where Ant-Man came out just before Avengers: Age of Ultron and also had little to do with the overall phase’s arc, instead it’s a mostly stand-alone film with just a few ties to the rest of the movies. Notably Civil War where T’Challa made his debut. Honestly, the movie this reminds me the most of is Wonder Woman as it is very important for its cultural impact in the realm of superhero movies as this does for the Black community what Wonder Woman did for women. The main difference is that where Wonder Woman was weakest in the third act, Black Panther’s weakness lies in its overall lack of strong action set pieces. But what it lacks in action, it more than makes up for with strong characters, themes, and gorgeous visuals. And just for full disclosure, I am a middle aged white guy from the suburbs and I will get into spoilers.
One of the best things about this movie is the sense of honor it places towards African style and culture. Wakanda is a mix of modern technology and African tradition. The clothes are bright and colorful, the language flows back and forth from whatever the native language of Wakanda is and English. It permeates everything from the architecture to the unfortunately CGI rhinos. The humor is also a mix of cultures with characters like the head of the Royal guard Okoye who is very much steeped in the fictional African culture of Wakanda, while the younger and tech-savvy Shuri tosses out YouTube era memes and jokes. The countryside used for the landscape of Wakanda is also gorgeous, especially the waterfall cliffs where the challenge for leadership takes place.
While the culture is a great strength of Black Panther, one of the weaknesses is the action. There are basically three major fight scenes and a couple other action scenes and they are the weakest points of the movie. The Asian street chase is the best of those with some great car stunts as well as some unique ideas with the remotely driven cars. The two fight scenes at Wakanda are passable, they are ultimately weak in terms of actual action and fight choreography, but it’s helped by the dramatic weight of the outcome of the fights. The final battle between Killmonger and Black Panther alongside the larger battle between the Royal guard and the other tribe are the weakest, with the one on one battle taking place in a very dimly lit area where the vibranium-blocking technology merely allowed the final blow rather than many additional moments of tension. The giant melee has a questionable motivation for the mini civil war and an expected last minute save, and while there are likely some deaths it’s a very PG-13 battle with plenty of fighting but nearly zero casualties.
But the action is only a small part of the film, the rest is filled with themes of political action as well as mistakes of a father having his son face the consequences. T’Challa’s father made the mistake of casting a young child out of the history of Wakanda due to the mistake the child’s father made and it turned him into the villain Killmonger. Michael B. Jordan does an excellent job of playing him as an intelligent and capable villain who believes that what he is doing is right based on how he has grown up. Similarly, T’Challa recognizes that the decision made by his own father became part of the reason why he is now facing Killmonger as an enemy rather than a brother, or technically a cousin. Alongside those, there are also questions raised about isolationism versus philanthropy. When a country as wealthy and prosperous as Wakanda chooses to keep that wealth and knowledge a secret while the countries surrounding them live in abject poverty, how is it right to continue to do nothing.
The performances overall were great, there were not just one but two fantastic villains. While Klaue didn’t make much of an impression in Age of Ultron, here he hams it up as a joyously energetic villain that seems to be in on the fact that he’s in a comic book movie. Killmonger is a much more nuanced performance that combines intelligence with power, arrogance, and ambition combined with a bit of street for some extra flavor. T’Challa is everything that you would want in a superhero and is very much comparable to Captain America as a character whose morals are the strongest aspect of his character as he tries to do what’s right above all else. The rest of the supporting cast also doesn’t have a weak spot in it, from the humor of Shuri, the quiet strength of Angela Bassett and Forest Whitaker, and the interesting mix of humor and strength of M’Baku. They even made a not-quite-villain-but-somewhat-antagonist Everett Ross into a more interesting character and ally. It is a fantastic film from start to finish that feels right at home in the Marvel Cinematic Universe with its mix of action, humor, and pathos while creating a layered world around Wakanda and its fictional culture that really brings it to life on the screen. It’s about time that a movie knocks Blade down a notch as being the best example of a Black superhero movie out there, especially considering that Blade came out nearly twenty years ago. Until next time, this has been Bubbawheat for Flights, Tights, and Movie Nights.