Am I the first to comment on the wonderfulness that is Black Panther, the movie?

If so, so be it. I saw it Thursday night, at a screening arranged by my friendly neighborhood comics shop. Before the show, there was an intellectual discussion at a tea bar near the theater led by a graduate student from Harvard (who is, of course, a regular customer at the comics shop) and Howard University's chair of Afro-American Studies.

Without further ado, here are some thoughts. And, just to be clear: spoiler photo spoiler.gif

  • It DEFINITELY lives up to the hype. Five stars, and two thumbs up!
  • It begins with an innovative animation illustrating a voiceover of a father -- presumably King T'Chaka -- detailing the history of Wakanda to his son, presumably T'Challa.
  • It follows that with a flashback to 1992 in Oakland, California, in the 'hood. What transpires here is the foundation for everything that follows, and director Ryan Coogler builds things cafefully and surely, bit by bit.
  • Black Panther is a self-contained story, but if you feel the need for a prequel, go see Captain America: Civil War again. (You have seen it, yes?). That film features the death of King T'Chaka; Black Panther has the coronation of T'Challa as the new king.
  • At the coronation, T'Challa has to drink a potion that strips the power of the heart-shaped herb out of his system, and then have a hand-to-hand battle with any other tribal chieftain who wishes to challenge him for the throne. He gets such a challenge from M'Baku of the Jabari-Lands, the sole holdout of the five Wakandan tribes that chooses not to unite under the leadership and protection of the Black Panther. M'Baku is a bruiser who is taller and stronger than T'Challa, so the fight is not an easy one.
  • Well before I saw the film, I talked about it with a friend and noted that Angela Bassett is in the cast, "and she plays the queen," I said. "As she should," he said. "As she should," I agreed.
  • Danai Gurira is Okoye, general of the Dora Milaje, and she is so badass, she makes Wonder Woman look like a Barbie doll.
  • We met Ayo, played by Florence Kasumba, in Captain America: Civil War, in a show-stealing moment where she challenges the Black Widow. Surprisingly, and disappointingly, we see little of her in Black Panther.
  • It's been said that the contrast between Professor Xavier and Magneto in X-Men is an analogue to Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X and their worldviews. Maybe it's because I'm not all that steeped in all things X-Men, but I never got that sense from my own reading of the X-Men stories and just figured that was Marvel's after-the-fact mythmaking. But there definitely is such a divide between T'Challa's Black Panther and Erik Killmonger. T'Challa is from Wakanda, a fantastically perfect African nation untouched by the depredations of colonialism; Killmonger is very much an African-American, who knows and has lived the worst that America has offered to Black people.
  • Also Killmonger, like his father N'Jobu, is angry and resentful that Wakanda's might and resources have not been used to benefit the broader world -- and they mean to change that, now. Or, as Michael B. Jordan, who plays Killmonger, put it in an interview: "the movie asks, 'Am I my brother's keeper?' And for Wakanda, its answer has been, 'Nah.'"
  • Too bad Ulysses Klaue meets his end, but clearly, he was using Killmonger and Killmonger was using him. 
  • The second time T'Challa faces a challenge to the throne, it really doesn't go well for him, in a painful analogue to the real world and a nation that went from an intelligent, cultured, educated, wise leader to an ignorant, belligerent, bitter, foul-mouthed, short-sighted, uncouth usurper ... which I'm sure was not accidental.
  • One short-sighted move: Ordering all stores of the heart-shaped herb to be burned. Although, I suppose it was meant to ensure his hold on the throne, by ensuring there won't be any more Black Panthers.
  • Interesting that when T'Challa takes the heart-shaped herb and communes with the ancestors, he goes to an idyllic place populated with several of the past Wakandan kings ... and when Killmonger does so, he goes to the same dingy apartment where his father died, and meets no one but him.
  • Everett K. Ross is not played for comic relief here, which is just fine.
  • Still, there are touches of the Marvel movie humor here, like in the chase scene when Okoye's car is destroyed ... and all that's left of it is Nakia and the driver's seat and steering wheel.
  • And, of course, the Stan Lee sighting.
  • Man, Queen Ramonda and Shuri having to plead for help from M'Baku, and having to bow to him, was painfully embarrassing.
  • Two Black Panthers battlng? Oh, joy!
  • And a dying Killmonger gives the only answer he would give when given the opportunity to save his life: Live his remaining days in a cell? No. "Bury me in the ocean with my ancestors who jumped from the ships, for they knew that death was better than bondage."
  • When T'Challa and his entourage appear at the United Nations -- he in a tailored black suit, Okoye and Ayo in sleeveless black sheath dresses and black spike-heeled pumps, and Nakia in a dress and shoes in the same style, but in bright canary yellow -- someone behind me in the theater went, "DAMN! Fashion!"
  • And as it ended half the people in the audience were shouting to the other half to sit still and watch the credits, because there's always a post-credits scene in a Marvel movie!
  • Somebody stared arguing "Killmonger was right!" ... which somehow morphed into an argument about The Lion King ("Scar was right!").

More thoughts later, but as I said above: It DEFINITELY lives up to the hype. Five stars, and two thumbs up!

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I haven't posted my thoughts yet, because I'm still digesting. There is SO MUCH to talk about, I hardly know where to begin. Did't stop me from talking to every single human being we met for the rest of the night about it, from waitress to bartender to barback to strangers in the parking lot. I might have been babbling.

So, so good.

"A barback or runner, as they are commonly known in Europe, is a bartender's assistant. Bar-backs work in nightclubs, bars, restaurants and catering halls, and usually receive a portion of the bartender's tips."

Interesting, never heard that word before.

I loved it.

It's definitely going to require a second viewing.

I loved it too and second everything you said Clark.  This may well be the best Marvel movie yet, and a solid contender for one of the best movies of the year.  I rarely watch movies a second time during their theatrical runs, but as Cap put it, there's so much to digest, I feel a need to see it again.

  • And as it ended half the people in the audience were shouting to the other half to sit still and watch the credits, because there's always a post-credits scene in a Marvel movie!

It amazes me this still happens at Marvel movies, but it does every time.  I get that lots of people either don't know or don't care about the post-credits or mid-credits scene, but they missed a great one here.  I find there's three types of people once the credits roll: those who stay, those who leave, and those who stand up and block the view of those of us staying, apparently leaving but in zero hurry to do so.  They deserve the umbrage they get.

Just saw Black Panther today and agree, excellent film.  Among other tidbits, fun for us who read Jungle Tales #6, the first chapter of Don McGregor's "Panther's Rage" saga, which ends with Killmonger throwing T'Challa to his apparent death over the waterfall.  Killmonger's backstory and motive for his rebellion against T'Challa were significantly changed, but in a way that entirely made sense within the Marvel Cinematic Universe and certainly made for a very compelling rivalry.  Was a bit sorry to see Klaw taken out as he was an entertaining villain and Serkis looked very much like Klaw as depicted by Kirby in Fantastic Four #53 (prior to Klaw's transformation into a form of solidified sound -- which was fine for a 1960s comicbook super-villain but wouldn't work so well for 2010s cinematic badguy.

You don't spend enough time in bars. :)

The Baron said:

"A barback or runner, as they are commonly known in Europe, is a bartender's assistant. Bar-backs work in nightclubs, bars, restaurants and catering halls, and usually receive a portion of the bartender's tips."

Interesting, never heard that word before.

OK. I'm finally ready to talk about this terrific film without shortchanging it too much.

First, the subtext of the movie is that this is a country untouched by colonialism, so it's culture goes back thousands of years. This is a country that has become a technologically and socially advanced nation whose foundation and development weren't influenced by Western thought, fashion or culture. As such, to call it a unique and fascinating place is to undersell. Nothing like this exists in our world It's like a what-if -- a what-if African nations were allowed to keep their own resources and develop their own cultures instead of being hammered down by colonialism. It's an ode to diversity, but one that sells you with beauty and enlightenment. After seeing Wakanda, how can you not feel like the real world was cheated by the loss of all those cultures?

And, like my first impression of Star Trek (also, oddly, in 1966) it's a place where I instantly thought, "I want to live there. It is better than my world."

Second, it did touch on modern political questions, but I found it to be really subtle. For example, when T'Challa addresses the U.N., he says that advanced countries should build bridges, not barriers. If he wanted to hit us over the head, he'd have said "walls" instead of barriers. As it is, Trumpanzees might miss it entirely (if any of them would go to a movie with all those black faces). You had to listen to this movie, and moreover, you had to think.

Because this movie is chock full of Big Ideas. The biggest arc isn't of character of conflict -- it's whether or not Wakanda owes anything to the rest of the world, of whether -- wait for it -- with great power must come great responsibility. By the end of the movie, T'Challa has moved from a guy in a protective crouch vis-a-vis the rest of the world to one holding out a (clawed, vibranium-powered) hand. And he's dragged his country kicking and screaming with him.

That arc parallels T'Challa's own, where he becomes a king in more than name. He learns of his father's clay feet, and grows up a bit. Moreover, he learns how to be not just a leader, but his own man. His father says, "You are a good man. It's hard for a good man to be king." T'Challa accepts that initially, and tries to govern as his father did. By the end, he is developing his own style and philosophy of leadership.

And all of this works. Often in a movie a character's arc is unconvincing; the decision of a guy to do X instead of his usual Y at the end leaves us unsatisfied because we don't believe it. Not here. I was along for the journey every step of the way with T'Challa, and I know where his head is at, because mine was dragged there, too.

This ties into one of my major raves about the movie. Now, I loved the F/X, the costumes, the design esthetic, the fight choreography, all that stuff. It's all really superior work. But everybody talks about that.

What I don't see people talking about that I noticed was how tight this movie was. The writing was excellent, and the direction was virtually flawless. Every single major moment was foreshadowed, and so were a lot of smaller ones. Every time a pistol went off, I suddenly realized it had been on the mantlepiece since the first reel. Nothing was ex nihilo or unexplained.

For example, we had the Challenge with M'Baku near the beginning. It was.a fascinating scene, shot in an exotic locale with a cohesive design esthetic and a suggestion of well-practiced rituals that all fit together. (Did you notice that whenever one of the combatants lost his footing, the other guy's troops took one step forward in unison? Marvelous.) But what it also did was set up the second Challenge. When T'Challa and N'Jadaka get to it, the audience is already well-versed in the terms of the Challenge, how it is carried out, what's at stake, and so forth. So when T'Challa says "I accept your challenge," the next thing you know is that they're on that bloody cliff and you don't need any explanations and you've got your heart in your mouth because you know what happens if he loses. Brilliant!

For another example, Shuri (a breakout star if ever I've seen one) says at one point, "Oh, fine, another damaged white boy for me to fix." It's funny, but it isn't really explained until the after-credits scene. "Ohhh," you think, "THAT'S the other damaged white boy!" And because of the earlier dialogue, you already know what's up: Shuri has "fixed" him. No exposition needed. Brilliant!

No line of dialogue is wasted. Someone mentions that Ross is a former fighter pilot; sure enough, he's in the virtual fighter down the road. Someone tells T'Challa not to freeze; sure enough, he freezes. Klaue shatters glass with his light-up prosthetic and mutters "that's just a taste" -- and sure enough, later on we see the full power of the thing. Shuri explains that the maglev train-track posts negate vibranium when a train is passing, and sure enough two vibranium-enhanced combatants must fight there later, with their prime weaponry going on and off like a light switch -- while they dodge trains!

Pistol after pistol is placed on the mantlepiece, often with great subtlety, but they are surely there in the third act going pop-pop-pop in a stunning example of How To Make Movies Right.

And sometimes the movie turned the expectation on its head. In the beginning, some boys playing basketball look up as a Wakandan craft -- glowing through a fog -- lifts off from an Oakland, Calif., apartment complex roof. The camera zooms in one boy in particular. He is awed. He is amazed. "He's inspired," you think. "He will grow up to do great things."

D'oh! He grows up to be Erik Killmonger! He does big things, yes. but not great things. They are terrible things! That awe, that amazement, curdled as the paradise his father promised remained always out of his reach. Whoa!

Oh, and the third-act CGI-fest that's so commonplace ins superhero movies now that everyone complains about it? Not here. Coogler didn't destroy Metropolis or blow up the galaxy or whatever. Instead, there were human beings fighting, many of them one on one, for things that mattered to them. Sure there was vibranium-powered this and vibranium-powered that. There were armored rhinos (which were also foreshadowed). But the third-act climax was about IDEAS and PEOPLE whose dialogue had broken down so they were punching each other instead of talking. Brilliant!

OK, I could go on like that forever. Let's move on to the bullet items:

* I half-expected Klaue to die. Marvel movies don't seem to have any trouble killing off villains the comics have kept around for decades. Malekith, Red Skull, Crossbones, Arnim Zola, Hela, Ironmonger, Whiplash, The Destroyer, Ultron ... the list of dead MCU villains is pretty long. I expect that it's because there's only going to be so many movies about each character, so there's no need to recycle villains -- in fact, that might be boring and counter-productive. So use 'em up and kill 'em off. I expect Klaue's value as an on-screen villain had run its course. We had N'Jadaka to take his place, after all. And, in the end, he just wasn't very important -- it just isn't his story. So I wasn't too surprised.

* Speaking of which, N'Jadaka and M'Baku join my ever-growing list of Marvel names and terms I've been mis-pronouncing since I was a kid. It doesn't even hurt any more. Much.

* Did you notice that M'Baku gave praise to Hanuman? Clever and brilliant. Just as Ta-Nehisi Coates has merged the Wakandan panther god with the Egyptian cat-god Bast, the screenwriters have merged the Cult of the White Ape with the worship of Hanuman, an ancient Hindu monkey god. (Hanuman is so ancient, REH used him in the Hyborian Age!) This grounds the fantastic in our our world.

* I was impressed by N'Jadaku's trip to the memory lands (called Djarli in the comics). As CK noted, T'Challa saw his father and previous kings and panthers and the whole royal line going back centuries in a beautiful, surreal African savannah. Erik, by contrast, doesn't share that ancestral connection -- his line only goes back one generation to a crappy Oakland apartment, so that's where the Djarli took him. (Africa could be seen through the windows -- so close, but so far away.) That's sad, and ugly, and heart-breaking. There's the tragedy of the African diaspora in one simple scene.

* So we know why he's a villain. But isn't he kinda right sometimes? In the end, he and T'Challa both agree on ending Wakanda's isolation. But T'Challa's holding out a hand, while Killmonger was holding out a fist. It wasn't that Killmonger's idea was wrong -- it was his interpretation, his savagery, his bloodthirstiness that was wrong. "You have studied our enemies so long," T'Challa says at one point, "that you have become them." Wow, who wrote this stuff? Brilliant! So yes, to those who say Killmonger was right -- his idea was right. But he's still very much a villain.

* Every time the Wakandans showed up out of Africa (South Korea, New York), they really looked good. They combined the Western formal dress esthetic with the made-up Wakandan esthetic to come up with eye-catching hybrids. The word that always leaped to mind was classy.

* Speaking of which, we've seen Danai Gureira in combat on The Walking Dead plenty of times. But how many of those times was she in heels and an evening dress? CK was right -- that fight scene was several flavors of awesome.

* Despite the title and star turns by Panther, Killmonger, M'Baku, W'Kabi and even Ross and Klaue, this was a very female-driven picture. Most of the women were three-dimensional, with opinions and significant plot-turning actions. Without the ideas and actions of Ramonda, Shuri, Nakia and Okoye, this is a short, shallow movie about two guys wrestling.

Very thoughtful and detailed review, Captain!  Excellent job!  I mentioned to a friend of mine tonight, when we got to talking about the movie, that as a kid, about 43 years ago, I'd read reprints of T'Challas' first appearance in the FF as well as those issues of Jungle Action, his 1st solo series, and he asked me about how faithful the movie was to the comics.  I had to explain that with all the Marvel movies, based as nearly all of them are on characters that have been around for over 50 years, the movies often take bits & pieces from comics stories from all those decades but also tell their own version of the story to fit the modern era, so none of the Marvel movies are really faithful to the original comicbook stories in full detail -- they couldn't possibly be so and be coherent as movies and gain mass audiences.  However, the best of them are faithful to the spirit of the old stories and often pay tribute to particular details from the comics, as was certainly the case with The Black Panther.  In the comics, T'Challa's father had been slain when he was still a child and in the first chapter of McGregor's Panther's Rage saga, he had been away from Wakanda for several years, serving in the Avengers and teaching at a high school in NYC and Killmonger was a native Wakandan (but not a close kin of T'Challa) leading a rebellion against T'Challa whom he felt had gone Western, had deserted the kingdom for too long and did not deserve to reign.  In the cinematic Marvel Universe, all those details were changed but the core of the story, Killmonger's challenge to T'Challa and the fact that however evil Killmonger or good T'Challa, there was some legitimacy in the reasoning behind Killmonger's challenge and T'Challa, even with the best of intentions, had not entirely lived up to his responsibilities as both to his kingdom and, as a leader of a nation with great wealth and incredible technology, to humanity at large, harking back to that famous caption at the close of the first Spider-Man story, "with great power comes great responsibility."  

Among the aspects of Marvel that pulled me in to love their stories when I was a child in the late '60s and '70s wasn't just the colorful costumes and fights and action, but the great sense of humanism Stan Lee and later writers imbued in the stories, of characters struggling not just to beat the bad guys but to figure out what was the right thing to do and to do their best to do that, even if sometimes they made poor choices with terrible consequences. In highlighting those sort of psychological challenges as well as the physical challenges the heroes must face, the MCU has largely been very faithful to those aspects of the best of those Marvel classics from so many decades ago and thus been massively successful in bringing them to life on the big screens.

Good point about the "humanism" of Silver Age Marvel Comics, Fred. Perfect word choice.

I also have to mention a meme making the rounds on the Internet about the only two semi-major white guys in Black Panther. Everett K. Ross is played by Martin Freeman, who played Bilbo Baggins in Lord of the Rings. Ulysses Klaue is played by Andy Serkis, who played Gollum in Lord of the Rings.

They are the two Tolkien white guys.

A Forbes reviewer ranks the 10 best characters in the movie: "Ranking The Ten Best Characters In 'Black Panther'" 

This not to say that other characters are lesser; he's impressed with how strong the cast is.

I just got back from seeing it. I have close to zero experience with the character--never read a Black Panther comic--but I thought the movie did a good job setting everything up. Excellent acting all around, too. As a fellow white guy, I liked the way the CIA agent (aka "damaged white boy" and "colonialist") gets to prove himself. He totally earns it. Interesting the way T'Challa basically adopts Killmonger's agenda, but finds a peaceful way to do it.

Just saw it today and it was amazing! Certainly one of the top Marvel films. 

Unlike Thor, Iron Man and Captain America, the Black Panther begins with grief and self-doubt. Everyone can accept T'Challa as king except for T'Challa. Finding out about his family's past causes his faith in both himself and his father to falter. That's why he loses to Killmonger.

And this is a story about family and loyalty. T'Challa needs his to survive and win. We even see Everett Ross get slowly accepted into the family. T'Challa wants to be a wise king, a strong one and a good one but there is what is right and what is expected.

W'Kabi's defection was hard to take. He didn't want wealth or power but revenge and satisfaction. Killmonger gave him that by having a similar (but not totally the same) agenda. T'Challa "failed" him so he went with Killmonger despite Killmonger's father colluding with Klaue.

If M'Baku aka the Man-Ape had that much personality in the comics, he'd be a major star today! He reminded me of Prince Vultan in the Flash Gordon series. And was Andy Serkis having a blast!

The ladies of this film almost represent the past, present and future of Wakanda but all the positive aspects of those ideals. All three would not be out of place in an Avengers movie or perhaps their own movie!

This was more somber than most Marvel films but it had its humor and charm. But it succeeded due to the emotions of each character and is well worth seeing again!

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