Finally got to go see this last week. Here are some thoughts on the biggest movie of 2018 (so far).
[Heavy Spoilers in the Screenplay section]
While I'm not as familiar with Black Panther as some other Marvel properties, I thoroughly enjoyed Chadwick Boseman's performance in Captain America: Civil War. Additionally, T'Challa is a major figure in Jonathan Hickman's excellent run on The Avengers from a few years ago.
The trailers looked good and I was hearing good things from people I respect, so I went in with high hopes.
There is a lot going on in this movie. We have clandestine meetings, a jailbreak, ritual combat, coronations, proclamations, rebellion, car chases, a museum heist, an ambush, betrayals, and a couple near death experiences.
People are shot, stabbed, choked, pummeled, and trampled by a rhinoceros. Cars crash, walls are blown open with explosives, and jets are destroyed with missile strikes. Opposing tribes attack one another with high-tech versions of traditional weaponry.
Black Panther, gifted with superhuman agility and strength, leaps from a plane, hops over cars, and sends foes flying.
Very eclectic, with traditional African chants, modern hip-hop, and haunting classical pieces. In the main, it fit the action very well.
The only possible exception I noticed was during one of the scenes of the afterlife border, when T'Challa is speaking with the spirit of his father. Playing behind the scene is very beautiful cello piece which, while lovely, seemed out of place given the context.
|Be honest. You started humming the Lion King too.|
Speaking of beautiful, the costumes, sets, and landscape used in the film are incredibly lovely. Lush jungles, massive vistas, snow capped mountains, and mighty rivers fill the screen with natural wonder.
The CGI sets add man-made awe, with massive sculptures of totem spirits carved into hillsides and futuristic takes on more traditional architecture.
Costumes contain elements from various parts of Africa, with each of the five major tribes distinct and easily recognizable, and stylish modern touches incorporated seamlessly.
This is an arresting movie, visually, and I hope any future Black Panther films take as much care with the details as was shown here.
Stan Lee makes a cameo as a thieving gambler. I'm just not familiar enough with the property to spot much more than that.
The story picks up a week after the events of Captain America: Civil War, and follows T'Challa as he deals with the loss of his father and his ascension to the throne of Wakanda. Challenges come in the form of Ulysses Klaue (played with manic glee by a stellar Andy Serkis), an arms dealer who stole the quasi-magical metal vibranium from Wakanda, and from a challenger to the legitimacy of T'Challa's rule.
Along the way, the film explores the nature of leadership, the demands of honor, the historical and present struggles against racism, tribalism, and imperialism, and family loyalty. The writers manage to be fair and deft in their ability to show both sides of an argument and to provide solid motivations for any character decisions that are made.
But the film is about none of those things.
Instead, it's main theme is the centrality of fathers in the lives of their sons.
Throughout the film, T'Challa is faced with the fallout of decisions his father made as ruler of Wakanda. Klaue escaped justice for his crimes because his father did not prioritize his capture. Wakanda also remained isolated and secretive, even in the age of Ultron and extinction level events like the alien invasion in Avengers.
The threat to T'Challa's rule is also a direct results of his father's attempts to keep Wakanda's wealth of vibranium and the near miraculous technologies the mineral makes possible a secret.
That threat takes the form of Eric Killmonger (played with magnetic intensity by an impressive Michael B. Jordan), the abandoned son of a Wakandan prince who was sent to spy on America and was radicalized (it's implied) by the poverty and prejudice he saw there.
King T'Chaka, T'Challa's father, kills his brother Prince N'Jobu for betraying Wakanda's secrets to Klaue. But the king leaves Eric in Oakland, with no father and no explanation.Eric had heard stories of Wakanda from his father and sets out to use their own power to carry out his father's mission.
Killmonger is an excellent villain. He's smart, driven, and ruthless. He spends years becoming exactly what he needs to arrive in Wakanda as a conqueror.
And while he announces that he is there to lead Wakanda to an age of empire, at his core, he's still that small kid wishing that his father would come back and bring a world of wonder and innocence back with him.
We see this explicitly in the dream/vision Eric experiences during a ritual and again as he is dying. He speaks of his father's promise to take him to see sunsets in Wakanda, "the most beautiful sight in the world".
"You believe that? A kid from Oakland runnin' around, believin' in a fairy tale."
That one line contains so much: loss, longing, the power of myth, even in hard places and hardened hearts.
Both T'Challa and Eric carry the weight of their father's presence and absence in their lives. The difference is that T'Challa chooses not to follow in his father's mistakes, while Eric seeks to justify his own actions by them.
It's a suitably mythic showdown between equal and opposed icons.
This was a very entertaining film. T'Challa is everything you could want from a hero: noble, caring, humble in his own search for wisdom, and confident once his decision has been made. With outstanding foils in Serkis's and Jordan's villains and an excellent and relatable supporting cast, it's no wonder it's stayed on top of the movie heap for weeks. Definitely recommended.