Black Panther – I finally saw this yesterday, which is probably good as the theaters have to make room for the next Marvel movie. This was an important cultural landmark, as it had a black director and majority black cast, the main white actors being there to establish continuity with the other Marvel films. It also got a lot of criticism from racists, which is some of the best publicity you can get these days. I know racists generally don’t make sense, but even beyond that, why put so much effort into attacking a movie you don’t even intend to see? Or were they torn between their love of comic book movies and their desire to never give black people any money? Regardless, it had a great showing at the box office. Of course, it can be important and still not all that good, but I can say I liked it. I do have to admit having a bit of a preference for the sillier movies from this franchise, and this one was more serious, but that’s not to say it didn’t work. There were moments of comedy and of comic-style goofiness, but overall it dealt with some heavy political themes and a lot of spiritual content. Much of it takes place in the African nation of Wakanda, where a vibranium meteorite landed ages ago, giving the tribes in the area access to the supernatural metal. It became the most technologically advanced nation, but also very private, presenting the image of a third-world country of subsistence farmers to the rest of the world. Their capital city is a futuristic marvel that also holds to many ancient traditions, with its architectural and clothing styles being based on those of multiple African cultures. It’s definitely an impressive-looking movie.
After a scene set in the early nineties where King T’Chaka kills his brother, who’s been living as a spy in California, for betraying the country by helping a black market arms dealer steal vibranium. Then we switch to the present day, and T’Challa preparing to take the throne after his father’s assassination in Captain America: Civil War. The power of the Black Panther, which is mostly super strength, is given to the king with an herb, and can be temporarily removed during challenges for the throne. A lot of the movie focuses on T’Challa’s role as king, how he has to balance being an administrator and a warrior, and decide how much assistance Wakanda should provide to the rest of the world. There’s also plenty of action and espionage, as one of T’Challa’s first acts as king is to try to prevent the sale of vibranium in South Korea to a CIA agent, Everett K. Ross.
He brings along Okoye, a general in Wakanda’s all-female special operations; and Nakia, a spy and T’Challa’s ex-girlfriend.
Also playing a major role is T’Challa’s sister Shuri, a teenage scientist who’s invented a lot of handy devices. She might be my favorite character in the movie.
Ross becomes an ally after he’s injured protecting Nakia, and the others take him back to Wakanda for healing. Although the main villain at this point seems to be the arms dealer, Ulysses Klaue, he’s soon betrayed and killed by his associate Erik Stevens, born N’Jadaka and known as Killmonger. He was the son of T’Chaka’s brother N’Jobu, who was left in California after N’Jobu’s death; and he worked as a covert assassin for the United States. He arrives in Wakanda and seemingly kills T’Challa, taking over the country and planning to arm oppressed black populations in other countries. He’s set up to be a sympathetic character to some extent; he was left orphaned by his uncle as a child, and is reacting to very real racist conditions.
I have to admit that looking at those self-inflicted scars bothered me. So now it can bother you, too.
T’Challa considers his father’s killing of N’Jobu to be a mistake, but even if T’Chaka did feel it was necessary, shouldn’t he have at least taken Erik back with him? And also not have left his dad’s dead body lying around in the apartment? What the hell, T’Chaka?
T’Challa’s family leaves with the only remaining herb they have on hand, seeking the help of M’Baku, the leader of the Jabari tribe, who live separately from the other Wakandans. They also worship Hanuman, a Hindu monkey god, which led to censorship in India. While I suppose there are ways an Indian cult could have spread to Africa, it’s kind of a weird choice. The rest of the tribes favor Bast, an Egyptian goddess. Apparently the comics had M’Baku worship a version of the Baoule (a Cote d’Ivoire tribe) god Ghekre, who also takes the form of a monkey, so it’s not clear why they changed it. I guess the name Hanuman might be more recognizable to Western audiences (it certainly was to me), but I’m not sure why that matters. The movie also didn’t use M’Baku’s alias Man-Ape, due to the name sounding kind of racist.
It turns out that the Jabari have saved T’Challa’s life, with M’Baku feeling he owes him because he’d earlier spared his life when M’Baku challenged T’Challa for the throne. The thing I kind of don’t get about that is that the challenge is said to be until death or yield, which presumably means you’re not allowed to kill an opponent after they’ve yielded. So M’Baku owes a life debt to T’Challa just because he followed the rules? T’Challa’s family heals him with the herb, and he and his allies take Wakanda back from Killmonger. M’Baku and his army also help out, despite refusing earlier, because that’s how these things work in movies. Finally, T’Challa promises to share Wakandan technology and knowledge with the rest of the world. And after the credits, we see Bucky recovering in Wakanda. And that’s pretty much all I have to say, although I should also mention the rhinoceroses, because they were really cool.