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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Add Dora Milaje to the list of things I've been mispronouncing. I've seen the M'Baku challenge scene a few times since the movie -- it seem ubiquitous -- and I finally understood what T'Challa says when he calls the Dora Milaje to stand behind him. (When I saw the movie, I didn't catch it.) He says "Dora Milaje (something in Xhosa, which I assume means "come here"). And he pronounces it "dor-UH mill-uh-JAY. "

I had always pronounced it DOR-uh mill-AH-jay. 

Finally saw it. For me, sadly, it suffered from what I call "Shawshank Syndrome".

To explain, when the movie The Shawshank Redemption came out, there was an acquaintance of mine who was constantly talking about how incredibly great it was, how it was the best film ever made, etc. In other words, he built it up to the point that it could never live up to the hype it was receiving. It was a good movie, but I feel I've seen better.

Black Panther was a good movie, but I just felt there were lots of holes. It left me with lots of questions that I just didn't feel were answered--perhaps the filmmakers didn't want to answer them, but I felt dissatisfied.

Once again, I didn't think it was a bad movie--I can say that it was well-executed and planned out, and a fair amount of fun. I just didn't think it was a trans formative experience or the best film I've ever seen or anything like that.

Randy Jackson said:

Black Panther was a good movie, but I just felt there were lots of holes. It left me with lots of questions that I just didn't feel were answered--perhaps the filmmakers didn't want to answer them, but I felt dissatisfied.

What were the holes? What were the questions left unanswered? Tell us!

A large part of the movie was the argument as to whether Wakanda should remain isolationist or not, and I just felt as if we didn't really see the ramifications of the decisions T''Challa made, especially in terms of Ross. It's hard to imagine a situation in which he didn't rush back to the US to tell people about Wakanda. Same with how Ross was treated, particularly since he was there in South Korea to buy Vibranium from Klaw--you would think the Wakandans would be much less friendly towards him, whether they saved his life or not.

Also, while I liked M'Baku, I didn't particularly like his saying that the Jabari tribe wouldn't help, then showing up at the critical time--it's just too Hollywood. I felt like either it shouldn't have been stated, or that there should have been some negotiations hinted at or something along those lines to ensure that M'Baku and his people showed up for the battle.

Also, the ending with Shuri getting her new lab in Oakland--I didn't really get that. I didn't really see what was so great for her getting a new lab when she seemed more than content with the one she had. Unlike some of the others around her, she didn't really seem to have much of any opinion about whether Wakanda  opened it's borders or not. Perhaps there was some footage left on the cutting room floor.

There probably sound like little things to many people (I'm sure my first point will be addressed in Black Panther 2) but they are things I notice at the end of the day, and particularly when a movie gets hyped to the moon. I might have a different opinion and be much more forgiving if I hadn't heard all the press about it.

ClarkKent_DC said:

What were the holes? What were the questions left unanswered? Tell us!

I'll go to bat on the Ross question.

At first I was unhappy with how they were dealing with him, before I realized that this is an entirely different character than the one in the comics. And he had his own character arc, from the condescending jerk in "Civil War" and the beginning of this movie, to a guy who literally shut up and did what he was told, because he learned who was really in charge. His paradigm shifted, and he recognized who was really the big dog on the world stage. 

My failing at first was being too influenced by comic book Ross. This was not him. Once I accepted him as a new character, he made more sense.

But no, the Wakandans still wouldn't have taken him into their confidence, even though he was now clearly willing to do whatever it took for T'Challa (and proved himself useful). Under normal circumstances. But he took a bullet for Nakia, and that was that. Whatever the consequences, he was now family, and T'Challa treated him that way.

Would Ross run back and tell his superiors about Wakanda? Sure! (And doubtless with T'Challa's blessing.) Would it have been public knowledge before T'Challa made his U.N. address? Probably not, and even if it was in some U.S. newspapers, how many of our adversaries would take it with a bucket of salt until it was proven? We don't know who it was who asked that "nation of farmers" question, but it likely was NOT the U.S. ambassador. I think if he was meant to be, they would have labeled him as such. But since it wasn't, it could have been Russia or South Africa or Iran or some former Soviet satellite, who wouldn't have heard (or believed) the news.

That's my defense, because it all gelled for me. I'm guessing that the above is why it did.

I'll take Shuri and the lab in Oakland: What's so great is not her getting a new lab, but being in Oakland, as Wakanda steps onto the world stage. Her brother thinks it's good, so it's good.

As for M'Baku, he's a proud king in his own right. Of course he'd insist the Jabari tribe would stay out of Wakanda's problems; they always have. I think the decision to come to the battle stems from the knowledge that as king, T'Challa and his predecessors always respected the sovereignty of the Jabari Lands, but Killmonger certainly would not. If Killmonger is out to conquer the whole world, he'd certainly crush the place that's in his own back yard.

I get the objection that it's "too Hollywood" for the Jabari warriors to show up at the climactic battle, but telegraphing their appearance would undermine the surprise. On the other hand, for people like us who've seen countless movies and read countless more comics stories, it's no surprise at all, but it worked for me. Your mileage may vary.

I strongly suspect if anyone looks hyper-critically at any movie, even highly regarded classics such as Citizen Kane or The Godfather, blemishes can be found causing the critic to say, "aha, so this isn't so perfect after all!  It uses this cliche or that, and leaves this or that plothole!"  Of course, that goes far more for fantasy action films than more realistic dramas.  The Black Panther got mega-attention because it's the first film that is part of a major franchise, the Marvel Cinematic Universe, in which a black super-hero is the unquestioned star and the vast majority of the cast is black, and even the black women had prominent roles as heroic figures, none transformed into helpless hostages or suffering a tragic death.  And although T'Challa had not been among the most prominent of Marvel's superheroes, he still had a substantial history of over 50 years in comics, and is the ruler of his nation, possessing great strength and athleticism as well as the powers built into his vibranium-laced costume.  So for fans of superhero films looking for more racial diversity and more exotic settings in their costumed-drama fare, The Black Panther fit the bill very well.  

I've seen too many films which truly are chock-full of cliches and bad acting, atrocious dialogue and just anxious for the atrocity to be over but I couldn't leave because I was with friends who were loving those films (well, I could have left, but I wasn't willing to be that rude).  Two weekends ago, I saw Game Night, a comedy, with friends, and, ugh, I thought it was awful!  The Black Panther, however, I thoroughly farely mindful fantasy/action fare.

I agree that the movie was hyped as some sort of Marvel superhero movie game-changer. I just didn't see it that way, but there was so much to like about it that I don't care about the hype. A good (if imperfect) story, and lots of good performances: I call that a win.

Also, back to Randy's points: We all like different things. That's a good thing. 

I doubt anything I had to say, or CK had to say, has changed Randy's visceral takeaway from the movie.  In fact, my own comments are as much a rationalization for why I enjoyed it as anything I actually thought through during the movie. For whatever reasons, probably somewhere deep in our lizard brains, CK and I liked it more than he did. Which is also a good thing -- a world where we all liked exactly the same things would be a boring one. So I don't want Randy (or anyone else with reservations about the movie) to feel singled out, or ganged-up-upon. 

It's just fun to has these things out, because we're all fans. May it ever be so.

It took me ages to see it, but I finally saw it. Really liked it. Man, those waterfall scenes were something else. And the armored rhinos! Hopefully there's a kit where I can build one out of Legos.

You know, I typed a lengthy and favorable review of this film here, but it didn't post for some reason (my error, most likely. Darn back key!) So now all you get is "It was good".

I finally saw this movie a week and half or so ago, and I'm much more in Randy's camp. I found it the most predictable of the Marvel films. It was good, but it definitely did not live up to the hype. All of the claims of it being a game changer, and the best Marvel movie yet? Please. No way, as far as I concerned. 

And I say this as Black Panther is one of my all-time favorite characters, and Christopher Priest's series as a favorite comic book series.

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