Friday, March 2, 2018

Black Panther Movie Review

Black Panther (2018)
Watch the trailer 
Written by: Ryan Coogler & Joe Robert Cole (written by), Stan Lee and Jack Kirby (based on the Marvel Comics by)
Directed by: Ryan Coogler
Starring:  Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong'o, Danai Gurira, Martin Freeman, Daniel Kaluuya, Letitia Wright, Sterling K. Brown, Angela Bassett, Forest Whitaker, Andy Serkis
Rated: PG-13

T'Challa, the King of Wakanda, rises to the throne in the isolated, technologically advanced African nation, but his claim is challenged by a vengeful outsider who was a childhood victim of T'Challa's father's mistake.

This captures a lot of the typical Marvel movie tropes, but it also touches upon oppression and colonialism. This is one of the better Marvel movies, but it suffers from the Marvel fatigue and there's an even better movie hiding in here. The biggest challenge is that it forces a character, Erik Killmonger, into the villain role. This movie's point of view could easily be shifted to make him the hero. He's more charismatic than T'Challa anyway. I don't know why the movie didn't explore his plight with more fervor. On the surface, Erik isn't the typical selfish, corrupt villain. His purpose is greater than T'Challa's, whose only purpose is to fight Erik. Erik wants to free his people.
It depends.

This takes the typical Marvel outline and tries to make it something more but doesn't quite get there. It can't escape the basic archetype of hero and villain that is required in a Marvel movie. This isn't a bad movie. It suffers more from Marvel fatigue than anything else as the plot feels restrained by some checklist Marvel has. It's a mix of trying to address social issues while trying to fit into the mindless Marvel action romp. Erik, dubbed Killmonger, is forced into the villain role but he's more shades of gray. I hesitate to call him Killmonger as it just detracts from his goals. From his viewpoint this movie could easily be him as the hero and still fit many of the hero stereotypes. He's avenging his father, and he wants to help the people like him that have been oppressed. I wonder if I'd like that more if it was from his viewpoint. Erik as the Black Panther at least has a purpose that is more than, I want to be king because my father was king like T'Challa. Focusing on Erik could allow the movie to directly address the issues of oppression that the movie only touches.
This has the typical spectacles I've come to expect from super hero movies. We get the moment where the hero is on the brink of death, there's the apathetic character that is neither ally nor enemy that comes out of the wings to save the hero towards the end, and increasingly we're getting intriguing side characters.

This has a lot of good characters, almost all of them more interesting than T'Challa. T'Challa's sister Shuri is the tech genius that outfits him with upgraded armor. She made this feel a bit like a James Bond movie with a room full of weapons. Killmonger is painted as a villain, but the movie doesn't give us enough information to determine that. His goal is to stop oppression. He's sending guns out, but we don't know to whom or for what. It could be self defense. Erik says at one point, his people have never had the firepower referencing Wakanda, is that for offense or defense? We don't know. While Erik did kill a mercenary, T'Challa's general suggested the man be killed anyway. Also Michael B. Jordan is just more charismatic that Chadwick Boseman.

This mixes ritual and modern culture. We're told Wakanda is very advanced, but we never get a good look at what the city is like or what life is like. We get a city scape shot that has a lot of high rises, but the lone in the street shot doesn't look much different from an open air market. The majority of the depiction of Wakanda looks very tribal. There's mention of a hover bike, but never see anything like that or anything in the city that would back up that level of technology other than Shuri's lab which has a lot of high tech toys. I wanted to see T'challa stroll through the streets just to see what is this place really like. Letitia Wright steals most of her scenes, another great character that overshadows T'challa. He isn't a bad character. He's certainly dealing with a lot of issues, but we never know how he feels. He's taking on the role of king, he's discovering his father had some skeletons in the closet, and he's challenged multiple times for the throne but there is no emotion. We know what Erik is about, but not T'Challa.
I wondered if T'challa and Erik might team up, but it seems like the movie is constrained to a formula of good guy versus bad guy.
Erik is the typical hero to a large degree. He's a more interesting character by far and forced into the label of a generic bad guy never felt right. I was rooting for him. I just wish I knew his plan. Maybe he didn't want a violent revolution maybe he just wanted to give his people a fighting chance and let them defend themselves. He mentions, and the movie tip toes around issues like colonialism and slavery and oppression. If Erik wants to arm Africans to prevent them being kidnapped and forced into slavery, you can't argue against him.
Wakanda is a nation that has refused to help anyone despite their power and knowledge. This flies in the face of what being a hero is. Erik wants to help people and share Wakanda's wealth. At the end T'challa does reveal Wakanda's knowledge, but what changed his mind? Was it Erik? We don't know.

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