Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Five minutes watching - Black Panther

I caught the Black Panther this past weekend, and if you didn't see it in IMAX or REAL 3D or whatever that I was I saw it in, go see it again. You know what, go see it again anyway. I mean it was like it literally leapt off the screen, like I was standing there. Also, pay for the good seats up front, the one I had was leather, with wide arm rests and the whole thing reclined. I could have slept on that thing. Oh, yeah, the movie. Duh...

John Romita Jr's art was the best
It's a good film. It's a much a better adaptation of the source material than I expected and not quite as many plot holes as their could have been. And while it's not the first big budget movie to star a black person (thank you to Will Smith for holding the line all those years) it is the first one to surround that black lead with a majority black cast. The lead was black, the supporting cast was black and I still bet that if it comes up for an award somehow one of the two white characters will somehow get nominated while the others are forgotten. But it made a whole bunch of money this weekend, so I'll be mad about that when it happens.

For those that don't know, the Black Panther was Marvel's first black superhero, created in the mid-60's and actually predates the activist group with the same name. In a huge step for 1960's civil rights,  the character T'Challa is depicted as not only equal to the Marvel Universe's most intelligent, including Mr. Fantastic Reed Richards and Iron Man Tony Stark, he's also many orders of magnitude more wealthy. This incarnation of him grants most of mental acumen to his sister, but it doesn't make him just a muscle guy. He's noble, thoughtful and a man built to lead a nation.

From here on mild SPOILERS...both for the movie part and in the quasi political part that come after.

The film is pretty well written despite some critics I've heard who thought it meandered a bit early on. A lot of the scenes at the beginning are setups or background for things that happen later, so they only make sense later. For instance, the opening sequence from 1992 which threw a lot of information at us really fast that we weren't paying attention to, but what's said there changes the whole movie later. It almost encourages multiple viewing, which pretty good for a film about a superhero.

I also really enjoyed the visual of Wakanda, with it's wide open savannas and rural feel, juxtaposed against the Afro-futuristic version of a metropolis. But the scenes at The Great Mound seemed gaudy and those where T'Challa wandered the streets felt unnecessarily cramped. For the budget I would have tried for something a bit more airy for the urban shots. For the mining, I just would have started over, something less candy-like. But mostly the city, the interiors, the technology all came together to feel both fantastic and still a little grounded. I really liked the mix of tradition and contemporary, though not always in the costuming.

A couple of the story turns were a little too quick for my tastes and as with most superhero films the timelines are hopelessly ridiculous. Seriously, Erick took a Cessna from South Korea and turned up in Wakanda the next day? With a body in tow? And then everybody just fell in line? But comic logic not withstanding, and although the ending seemed rushed, I mean like they really should put those pieces they had to edit out for time back in, it was still a damn good movie.       

Now, to the quasi-political part of my review (sigh)...

After watching the film on Sunday I decided to read a few spoilered up reviews. I tried to find a few by black people because after seeing the revelry I wanted to know what the thoughts were. First was the guy who equated T'Challa's victory with respectability politics. Then came the folks who thought Erick's Death before bondage line was poetic, a new age "I'd rather die on my feet than live on my knees" sort of thing.

But it was the people echoing terms used by people who want them dead, various "Hotep" brothers, who  finished off my weekend by proclaiming Erick Killmonger was right. If I remember correctly the Killmonger's plan was to give Wakandan weapons to his personal definition of oppressed peoples around the world and start a series of revolutions. Sort of global civil war that would more than likely leave millions dead. Right..., no. That some people could reach this conclusion indicated to me some deep seated personal anger as well as a clear lack of scope outside their own purview, a through misunderstanding of what they'd just watched, and a failure to understand exactly how revolution works.

Let's go in reverse here so I can close with my main point. A revolution is NOT the purge. (I'm using one movie series to explain another movie series, yeesh) If you've never seen one of the Purge movies, the premise is one night a year all bets are off and you can do what you want to. The next morning, everyone shrugs off the night's "festivities," grabs an espresso and goes in to see if their boss survived. I hate to disappoint those who want immediate change via violence but that's not how it works in reality. In reality you get each little tranche of revolutionary with their own little version and frequently conflicting victory conditions blowing the bejeesus out each other for...sometimes years. 

Second, if you had payed attention in CAP AM: CIVIL WAR you'd realize that T'Challa's offer to save Erick at the end wasn't automatically just to later incarcerate him for his crimes. Erick with his clouded perception of the world and how it worked made the assumption that the Wakandans would treat him like, well, a black American. Thus he chose unwisely. T'Challa indicated in CIVIL WAR he was through with vengeance and stopped the man who killed his father from committing suicide. Why wouldn't he have been willing to take in a misguided cousin? This is a man who'd just cursed out his dead father for leaving that same cousin behind. The same man who took (or would take) in the Winter Soldier to rehabilitate him. Whose to say where Erick could have ended up. People who watched the film and saw revolution thwarted or respectability affirmed lack the vision and, the last item, scope. 

Side note - Why did T'Chaka leave his brother N'Jobu's body in Oakland? And why would leaving the son keep the up the lie that Wakanda was a third world state? And why didn't young Zuri clean house afterwards, opening all the panels and such? These are plot holes, hopefully answered in Blu-ray extra footage, and I'm on political now anyway. Sorry.

But the last part of my diatribe, the lack of mental scope is the most important part. Further, Erick was raised in America believed like most black Americans do that if we're both black it doesn't matter that I'm from Oakland and you're from DC, technically we're on the same side. But that's not how people from one of the 54 countries on the African continent think. There is a reason there are countries and tribes. I'm even going to completely discount N'Jobu being in the wrong from jump, as he instead of making his case to his brother for providing assistance instead actually sold out his entire country by assisting Klaue in stealing the vibranium to being with.

Further, Erick believed that Wakanda was being selfish by isolating itself instead of helping the oppressed people - particularly black Americans. But that's just it -  Wakandans have never been oppressed. It's part of their mythos - Never conquered, Never colonized. Where was this racial empathy supposed to have come from? Even worse, T'Challa had already indicated privately that he was starting to see Nakia's point of view about sharing a bit of their prosperity. And much like his father, Erick instead of making his case and subsequently finding this out, decided his way was the only way.

The people who think Erick was right need to step back, just like he couldn't.

In the end, T'Challa's actions will upset the world in ways Erick's "let's set all on fire" plan never could. It might even be dare I say it, a better plan. One without destruction. Without death. And sadly to some, without anger.   

In the end, good movie. Very good movie. Go see it. Again.

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