Black Panther (2018)

Spoilers ahead! It’s a movie everybody is going to see anyway, so we decided not to limit ourselves…

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Piotrek: MCU started 2018 with Black Panther and I, for one, am impressed. We’ve got an origin story a solid storyline with some impressive fight scenes and an intense political drama.

Villains almost steal the show. Andy Serkis is very good, but it’s Michael B. Jordan who we consider to be one of the greatest MCU antagonists. Ulysses Klaue, the main nuisance in the first act, a mercenary with a sense of humor, is Belgian and that might make some people wonder, why? What have the Belgians ever done to anybody? Well, in Congo they run a colony that made the other colonizers shake their heads with distaste and actually implement small changes. Certain level of atrocities is just too incompatible with the White Man’s Burden ideology, especially when too public to be swept under the rug. The Congo tragedy inspired Conrad to write Heart of Darkness!

But when we learn that the real threat to Wakanda comes from its disinherited prince, Erik Killmonger, well then we meet one of the most interesting MCU antagonists to date.

 

Ola: Almost full agreement here. Eric Killmonger is much more predatory than Black Panther himself – after all, playing Adonis Johnson in Creed must’ve given him a lot of insight into the physical aspects of acting, and he puts all he’s learned there to a great use: the anger, the drive and the desperation are almost palpable, and my only woe is that we won’t see him again ;). One could almost wish he was the rightful Wakandan in place of the more subtle Chadwick Boseman prince – still, the ideal of a gentle but firm philosopher on a throne is a very old one, as Aristotle would certainly attest…

Piotrek: It’s not the first black-superhero movie (and not even the first good one, and there were many movies that tackled the problem of racism. But this one is important because it gives agency to its black heroes, gives them power independent from the structures of power the ignore or sideline them.

Ola: Ekhm… first Shaft, anyone?

 

Piotrek: There might be some resemblance to how Inglorious Basterds dealt with the issue of Holocaust, but with one important difference – Wakanda is not a revenge fantasy, but a story about a force that might change the world in a good way.

Ola: Hmm… I’m not an expert on the Blaxploitation movement, but that’s actually what bothers me most in this whole ambitious affair – that there’s still a need to reiterate the ideas voiced over 60 years ago, and that they are welcomed as something new. Don’t get me wrong, Black Panther hits and doesn’t miss, and it’s a superhero movie I’ve been waiting for – with a clear, significant message under the glossy veneer of the escapist entertainment ;).

Piotrek: Since Hollywood observed that racism is not as fashionable as it used to be, movie creators started to include some minority characters, usually in supporting roles. A gay friend, a black co-worker, often dying relatively early in a story – when starring in a bloody genre. Here, poor Bilbo is the token white guy, trying to be helpful but having trouble comprehending the strange situation he found himself in.

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Ola: And he deals with it much better than Andy Serkis as Klaue – sorry, but Klaue didn’t convince me in the slightest. Whereas Everett Ross is one of the few truly decent special agents we’ve seen in American blockbusters for a while 😉

Piotrek: I’m not into hip hop and if not for Nerdwriter’s video I’d never know about Kendrick Lamar. He definitely is a big name and a very able artist. Black Panther: The Album – Music from and Inspired By is worth checking out and appreciating both as a part of Black Panther experience and also on its own merits. Take a moment and listen. I won’t link any songs as the one I wanted to is blocked in my Poland (on Youtube, I listen to it on Spotify)… A*holes, and the EU plan to ban geoblocking will initially exclude, among other things, music :/. Anyway, I’ve really enjoyed Cage’s soundtrack (especially Jidenna), and now this, Marvel is expanding my horizons :).

Ola: It’s definitely a different experience – but while I enjoyed Cage’s soundtrack very much, the music in Black Panther didn’t really strike a chord with me. It was good because it perfectly corresponded with the movie, but that’s about it.

Piotrek: Music is just one of the building blocks that click together to to make Black Panther unique. The way Wakanda and its people look is also great. We have a mix of s/f and traditional Africa, high-tech society you easily believe evolved without Western influences. It also looks great!

Just, maybe, a tiny bit too advanced? Isolated country, even one with exclusive access to unique resources, would have trouble advancing that much ahead of the rest of the world – information exchange was always crucial to technological development. And Shuri is probably too young to be Wakanda’s Q equivalent and revolutionize entire country’s infrastructure at the same time… Still, it’s a superhero movie. when something works so great you don’t look too close.

 

Ola: Well, it seems that once again I’m the one poking holes ;). Maybe I’m projecting too much here, but if someone made such a movie about Slavic cultures and put everyone in linen garments from a thousand years ago, because it’s TRADITION, and then ordered the contestants to fight to death to find out who should be a ruler of a big, possibly immensely globally influential nation… I’d say there’s something like too much of a good thing. On the other hand, though, I very much appreciated the role of women in Black Panther. They were on equal footing with men – in every aspect. Strong characters which could have as easily been male, and nothing would have had to be changed in order to fit. Finally! It definitely helped that Coogan managed to gather a really impressive cast for his movie, and every actor found a right tone to the roles which could have been easily overplayed.

As a side note, I really enjoyed the deeper themes at play – from the process of growing up shown as a realization that our parental figures also make mistakes and that it doesn’t make them less loved or admired to the very American dilemma between expansion and isolationism. Wakandan king seems able to find a middle way, and that’s something we all should strive to achieve as well. Of course, being the most technologically advanced state in the world, with enlightened rulers, extremely high gross domestic product, no inner problems and extremely precious natural resources helps a bit, but who would stop us from dreaming? 😉

Piotrek: It’s a right movie, movie that was needed, but also – thanks to the efforts of people genuinely passionate about the project – a really good one. You don’t need to appreciate its wider significance to enjoy your time, but why wouldn’t you? It’s truly a part of our times’ mythos, and myths are more than a bit of fun.

Score: Ola 9/10, Piotrek 9/10

6 thoughts on “Black Panther (2018)

  1. I’ve yet to see this but publicity and public reaction make it more than likely that I’ll catch it some time. Great conversation here, thanks!

    Just one thing: putting aside the technology vs tradition issue (though I do remind myself that the UK is a major arms trader with the likes of Saudi Arabia while maintaining the illusion for tourists that it’s an Edwardian backwater with its quaint Changing of the Guard ritual at Buckingham Palace) one incongruity suggests itself. Where is Wakanda supposed to be?

    Landlocked, we’re told, aren’t we? I’m assuming the ancestral origins of most of the African American actors are west African, and if so then there will be some physical differences with Africans from the centre and the east of that continent, will there not? Kenyans, for example, have a different physiognomy from Nigerians, and Eritreans from Angolan — much as most ethnic Spaniards differ from Estonians or Tibetans from Northern Chinese. What kind of ethnic diversity or similarity do you both note in the film?

    I only ask because as a kid I couldn’t suspend disbelief when a local chief was quite obviously African American when the Tarzan film I was watching was clearly shot on location with African locals as extras, with their different body language, faces and complexions.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I believe there’s only one moment of the movie showing the actual position of Wakanda on the map – the location was central-eastern, postitioning T’Challa’s kingdom as a neighbor of Uganda, Kenya, South Sudan and Ethiopia and was actually quite in line with the traditional areas of settlements for Masaai people, whose culture was a vivid inspiration for the movie. Plus, they omitted the hurdle with the differences in physiognomy through the creation of five distinct tribes ;). As for the African American thread and cosmopolitan styles, they are actually very nicely woven into the story, so that the differences in accents or looks didn’t seem incongruous. At least to me 😉

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