Black Panther follows the traditional superhero formula for films where there’s already been an origin. For filmverse Black Panther, Captain America 3 was basically his origin film. This pattern is – see the hero’s strength, see the villain’s strength, the villain rises, it appears that all is lost for the forces of good and then the hero wins.
In films like that, the important is the specific details, the character bits, the frills. And Black Panther is very good at those.
Chadwick Boseman has the most difficult job. Because playing good is difficult and he knocks it out of the park. Heroic good in films tends to be reactive, and given very little to actively do. It’s a hard balancing act, of being awesome and good without being too preachy.
I am taking the time to say this mostly because the rest of this is all about how awesome everyone else in the film is but T’Challa is the base of all of that.
The most important detail is that Michael B Jordan will break your heart. I mean, actually break it. With a significant assist by Sterling K. Brown. It’s that moment where you realise that the opening narration isn’t T’Challa’s father to T’Challa, it’s N’Jobu to Erik. It’s an exiled prince telling the son he fears will never get to see his homeland all about it, and that breaks me because he knows he’s about to do something that will get him exiled for ever but is going to do it anyway because it’s the right thing do. Or at least he thinks it is the right thing to, and he might be right and Marvel are doing that thing again. The whole film is full of situations like that, see also T’Challa’s father is not a bad man, he might not be a good man, but he’s not bad, but he did a terrible thing, again, because he thought it was the least worst possible option, even though he was probably wrong. Did I mention, Marvel are doing the thing!
Then there’s the “I’m not crying” tears and how vulnerable and deadly Erik is at the same time, and the contrast between that and the equivalent scene of T’Challa and his father.
And then the ending, where Erik’s ready to be let down by Wakanda, the way he has been by everything else, and he isn’t, because it is every bit as beautiful as his father promised, and he’d still rather die than be imprisoned because he knows he’s right. That was the bit that made me cry.
Killmonger is very much one particular type of Marvel villain, he is the bad man with a righteous cause. He is Magneto, down to the name, it’s just that this time the cause is that much more real.
One of the reasons why the film works is that Killmonger isn’t the only one who believes that Wakanda shouldn’t be isolationist, Ntiri does too, it’s just Killmonger’s methods that are … too extreme. Too often in films like this, anyone who disagrees with the hero is wrong, and either misguided or evil. Black Panther makes sure that that doesn’t happen. The film is very careful that Ntiri is always good, and kind, and just, and agrees with most of what Killmonger is saying. Which is tricky to pull off, and it helps when you have Lupita Nyong’o to play the role.
A lot of thought has gone into this film. I mean, more than usual. T’Challa can get away with going “no, vengence is bad” to W’Kabi because he did forgive his father’s killer. T’Challa he knows that you have to forgive to avoid a cycle of violence (the end of which, last time, was the Sokovia mess). It means that, while you might disagree with his not killing Klaue, he’s not a hypocrite when he tells W’Kabi that it was better to take Klaue in alive. They must have had at least the vague outline of this plotted out when they were writing Captain America 3 to make sure it worked. I like it when Marvel plan and have joined up thinking.
Talking about awesome, let us now speak of Okoya. Partly, she’s a stock character I like done well, it’s someone who is loyal to the kingdom, not necessarily who is on the throne. But normally, they’re crusty old men with beards (hello Colonel Zapt in “Prisoner of Zenda”) and Okoya isn’t.
She never breaks. She sticks to her word. She serves Killmonger until he, and W’Kabi, break the rules. No matter how much it hurts her, her word is her bond, and her honour upholds the throne. Yes, she might be glad that they give her the opportunity to rebel, but until they do, she sticks with her duty. Charging a rhino at her was never going to work. (I do love that W’Kabi doesn’t even try to do anything else when his rhino stops. There’s a certain sort of “no go” when a rhino doesn’t want to do something.)
I love the fighting style of the Dora Milaje. Which I love. Because it looks so effective, and they actually train to be a person down, which makes so much sense. All hail fight tactics in films making sense.
The way the right of challenge was phrased made it quite clear that T’Challa wasn’t going to be dead, I mean, beyond it being his film and him turning up in the Infinity War trailer beforehand. You only phrase things that way when you need a get out clause.
All hail M’Baku, the noblest man in the kingdom. Because he could have taken the last of the heart-shaped herb and challenged Killmonger. No-one would have known that T’Challa wasn’t dead. I do like that the Jabari’s thing seems to be “we are awkward and we enjoy it” (even if I am deeply confused by Hanuman having followers that far west. I mean, I totally support Hanuman having worshippers wherever they are but …). I was so worried that he was going to be the film’s heroic sacrifice.
The heart-shaped herb as a whole sets up some interesting things for the future. Ignoring any spiritual-mystic stuff, the idea of a plant that both gives and takes away power is interesting, as is Killmonger destroying the remaining plants. I think he does it, not just to stop any immediate challengers to the throne but because I’m not entirely sure he expects to live long enough to have children. I think that’s supposed to be one of the contrasts to his father, T’Chaka and T’Challa. I also wonder how the burning of all the heart-shaped herb affects any future Panthers, because if it’s vital then there’s a problem, but if it’s not, then they’ve got other problems.
I feel bad for leaving Shuri this late in my write-up (and her bit being so short) because I love her so. Because she’s geek girl done accurately, adorable and a genius, all the way down to the terrible sneaker jokes. (Also, really T’Challa, what did you expect to happen when she said that the new gear used hits to it to produce force? She warned you!)
It was only reading the stuff around Black Panther that told me that Everett Ross in Captain America 3 was supposed to be an annoyance rather than a budding Trask/Gyrich-esque villain. Note to self – you and Hollywood have different concepts of annoyance and villainy. I do think that he was written deliberately less irksome/villainous in this one, when he’s being irksome in the interrogation of Klaue but immediately tries to save Ntiri from a bullet. It’s only writing this post that’s made me realise why they had to have someone get badly injured for the ending to work properly. Killmonger’s choice to die rather than be imprisoned only works if we know that Wakandan technology can save him.
I refuse to accept Angela Bassett is old enough to have a grown son, never mind a son who is old enough to be king.
The casting directors deserve so much credit for how well they cast the young T’Chaka and the young Zuri. I mean, yes, they cast the actor’s son for T’Chaka, and while they swear Denzel Whitaker is no relation, I think that’s just to hide how advanced their cloning programme is, because he moves like Forrest Whittaker, but only when Zuri’s revealed to be Zuri. All joking about cloning aside, it’s a clever little bit of physical acting.
Andy Serkis knew he was playing the weak villain who gets killed to make either the good guy or the villain look strong and played the role with gleeful aplomb. On the otherhand, I’d like to know how you get Klaw out of Klaue, as, AFAIK and Afrikaans isn’t one of my languages, Afrikaans is a say what you see language. I can maybe just about get Klow-eh out of that, but not Klaw.
Which brings me to the only thing that was a little off with the film. I understand the filmmakers were aiming for “there is more to Africa than you see in the news” but they do it by making Wakanda a melange of so many cultures. I think some of it is from the comics (Black Panther was never one of my comics, I only know characters that crossed over with the X-Men), because that’s who I am blaming for Hanuman being a God anywhere in Africa. Or Bast being a goddess that far south of Egypt.
In the words of one friend, “why are they speaking Xhosa so far north.” I know why they chose Xhosa, it’s immediately recognisable but … It’s noticeable.
That does seem a picky thing to comment on when the film was so bright and vibrant and good. Which it was, and I recommend everyone go watch it.