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The Universal Appeal of Black Panther

This is a reaction piece, not a full review. It will be most sensible to those who have seen the film, but only low spoilers due to some things just should not be spoiled.

I went to Black Panther determined to write an objective review. This isn’t one. Within a few minutes of the film’s start, I had tears on my eyes, and when King T’Challa/Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) returned home to Wakanda, they just started streaming down my cheeks.

The sets, costumes, and city are a great example of “show, don’t tell.” Though there is plenty of exposition of the nature of “as you know” or flashbacks and visions as well.

I have read a lot of reviews saying how this is a black movie, and it is, through and through. But it is more than that. Black Panther pulls you in and I felt like this was my family, my people, my African nation as it should have been without colonization and neocolonialism. This isn’t the world as it is, but in some sense, a vision of the world as it could be.

The fictional nation of Wakanda, being the most technologically advanced nation on Earth, shares many of the dilemmas which the US faced when it was technologically advanced compared with other nations. “If we allow in immigrants, they will bring their problems with them,” as one character tells King T’Challa. Similarly there are issues of arms exports and bringing justice through superior firepower. An interesting and thought-provoking mirror.

Erik “Killmonger” Stevens is certainly the best of the Marvel villains, an area where they have been notably weak in characterization and motivation in the past. A Shakespearean family drama ensues. As well as Killmonger and T’Challa acting as proxies for the African diaspora v. mother Africa.

It’s funny how critics run in packs. I’m curious why the neoliberals aren’t screaming about cultural appropriation because this movie is all about that.

Wakanda is supposedly in East Africa more or less where real life Rwanda and Burundi are today. But people speak isiXhosa, a South African language. And the hairstyles, fashions, and architecture and textiles are a mishmash from all over the continent. All overlaid on what is now retro-futurism dating back 50 years to Jack Kirby’s illustrations for the comic.

Of course, Wakanda doesn’t exist in the real world, and more’s the pity. So they had to use inspirations from somewhere. And everything is so beautiful and awe-inspiring that I guess every reviewer in the world is giving them a pass on this and I’m no exception. Of course I tend to be a “world citizen” and “all one people” person so I am prone to want to encourage people to learn and use and do the best of everything, and to make it their own anyway. But that’s another story.

Wakanda is kind of a Pan-Africa melting pot and hodepodge in the way it is portrayed, even though it is presented as severely isolationist. The backstory for this in the comics is that the Rift Valley where Wakanda is situated is the Ur-seat of all human civilization, and African civilizations in particular.

Very strong cast. Chadwick Boseman seems to be channeling a young Nelson Mandela in his regal bearing as a newly-crowned king, his accent, his cadence, and his badassness (Mandala was a hereditary prince of his tribe, and a boxer as well as a lawyer before he was imprisoned on charges of murder and terrorism.) His nemesis, Killmonger, played by Michal Jordan is a Shakespearean anti-hero who almost steals the movie.

There are many strong and independent female characters. Notable is Leticia Wright as T’Challa’s snarky younger sister and master of Wakanda’s vibranium-based technology, Shuri. Danai Gurira as Okoye, general of Wakanda’s Royal Guard, the Dora Milaje, is ferocious as the guardian of the throne. And Angela Bassett brings a regal presence to the role of Queen Mother Ramonda.

There were a couple moments which were immersion breaking for me. One early one which I will spoil involves CIA operative Everett Ross (Martin Freeman) interrogating South African arms dealer Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis, having great fun chewing all the carpet in sight in his own skin instead of mo-cap), who replies with questions of his own. I suddenly realized I was watching a game of riddles between Bilbo (Freeman) and Gollum (Serkis). As a meta-callout this is amusing but also distracting for me. The second weakness is some rather sloppy CGI which would frankly be better served with Wuxia-style wirework or even simply cutting those few seconds.

The third act suffers from too much action, falling into the typical problem where every Marvel movie has a setpiece battle where they try to top all the previous movies. Not up to the standards of Civil War, but special bonus points for (spoilers) armored rhinos! Remote piloted space ships! Personal force-shields and sonic blaster vibranium spears! Heel-Face Turn and The Cavalry. All in one rather chaotic battle. The narrative and characterization is somewhat lost in the festival of badassness which ensues. But this is a genre standard and the movie can be praised for opening so many new avenues it can be forgiven for the rather predictable final battles. I’d say more but big spoilers there.

Overall, a most lovely movie which will stand the test of time, better than I expected after reading 30+ positive reviews on Rotten Tomatoes, and a rollicking good time. The movie seems too short at 2:14 so I am looking forward to a director’s cut and one hopes, one or more sequels, including perhaps a spinoff for some of the interesting secondary characters. Wakanda Forever!

5 of 5 stars. Bring a friend so you don’t talk your Lyft driver’s ear off as I did on the way home. :)

Copyright © 2018 Henry Edward Hardy


16 February, 2018 Posted by | Andy Serkis, Black Panther, Chadwick Boseman, Danai Gurira, Martin Freeman, media, Michael Jordan, scanlyze, Wakanda | , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

My thoughts on Captain America: Civil War

My thoughts on Captain America: Civil War

I finally saw Captain America: Civil War last night. What an enjoyable movie! It is a mashup of filmatic styles and tropes ranging from noir to 70’s spy thriller to good old comic book splash page goodness. Shaky cam, long tracking shots, cgi and practical effects are used with virtuosity in a way which surprisingly does not clash or become a distraction.

Of course none of this would work without fine writing, a journeyman cast, and the directors’ broad vision of how the emotional dynamic works for each of these characters.

Props to Robert Downey, Jr. as Iron Man, Chadwick Boseman as Black Panther, William Hurt as Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross and Tom Holland as your friendly neighborhood kid from Queens. They stand out among the capable and surprisingly nuanced performances by the ensemble cast.

The film avoids one of the overused arcs of films these days particularly of the cape versus cape variety. Rather than building up to a ponderous, cgi-laden Class 3 extinction event, the big fight occurs in the middle of the third act. This leaves room for a smaller scale coda which focuses back on the essential conflicts personified by the characters of Iron Man and Chris Evans’ Captain America: rule of law and personal conscience, friendship and honor, and regret and hope.

Bittersweet, funny and trenchant, not by turns but all at once, this is a rare and laudable piece of film-making. And also great, great fun. It is the film we would have made if we could when we were thirteen years old, but with the wisdom and insight which is only bought through lifetimes of failure, transitory successes, and bitter mistakes which cannot be undone.

Civil War covers thematically much of the same territory as the ponderous and lamentable Batman v Superman. But where BvS is clumsy, depressing, and makes the protagonists look like sociopathic jerks, Civil War manages to leven its gravitas with humor and witty repartee.

If you used to love Marvel comics or still do, you will love love this film. If you are so-so on comic book films but enjoy action thrillers like the Bourne films, I think this film will still work for you.

Bottom line, a two and a half hour film seemed to me to be half an hour and left me wanting more.

Five of five stars.

Captain America: Civil War – Official Trailer | HD

Copyright © 2016 Henry Edward Hardy

11 September, 2016 Posted by | Captain America, Civil War, Marvel, scanlyze | , , , , , , | Leave a comment