Whoever has the gold makes the rules. -Various attributions
Last Friday, I went to see Marvel’s latest masterpiece, Black Panther.
In the Marvel universe, one of the strongest and most versatile metals of all is made from vibranium. This element can absorb incredible amounts of shock with its vibrational properties, and it is one of the most sought-after metals in the world.
Long ago, an enormous asteroid of vibranium hit the continent of Africa, somewhere around modern-day Rwanda. When humanity settled the area, the mineral gave the settlers incredible technological capabilities and advanced their ancient civilization well beyond even today’s standards (and bear in mind that the Marvel universe already has things like cloning and the occasional space ship). This civilization became the sovereign kingdom of Wakanda. Like the legendary El Dorado, Wakanda keeps itself hidden from the outside world, never revealing to the United Nations its incredible power or meddling in foreign affairs such as war, be that physical wars or wars on poverty and disease.
The king of Wakanda (or queen? They aren’t very explicit about that) drinks the juice of a plant simply called “the heart-shaped herb,” giving him the smell, strength, and reaction times of a black panther (presumably a melanistic leopard), as well as the ability to confer with and gain the experience of the kings of the past. The heir to the throne is raised for this position from birth, and will thus be highly educated and talented in many areas of study.
Our hero, Prince T’Challa, comes of age and takes his place as king and as the Black Panther–after the evens of Marvel’s Civil War movie (but don’t worry; I saw Black Panther without seeing Civil War and I got along just fine). And that is where our story begins.
Entertainment: 4/5 Intellect: 4/5 Overall: 8/10
From the very first scene, you could tell that this was going to be a good movie. I absolutely love their sand holograms, and I loved the opening narration. It became even more special when I later found out who was narrating it!
The general consensus among all my friends and family members is that the best character was the younger sister, Shuri. She felt like a new kind of comic relief, and I 100% believed that she was a younger sibling teasing one of the most powerful men on earth as if he were just a little kid. She was both hilarious and useful, yet not a Mary-Sue. The first villain, Klaw, was also quite refreshing. He’s chaotic evil like the Joker but in a way that feels really different and new… I loved every moment that he was on screen. But even after he made his exit, I still felt like I’d had a satisfactory experience with him.
I’ve heard people criticize superhero movies for just being two hours of mindless action, though I still hold that they likely haven’t seen good superhero movies. Black Panther, however, is a lot like Spiderman: Homecoming in that every single second of every single fight is absolutely essential. Every move leads to a change in the battle dynamic. I normally zone out even during the best-choreographed action scenes because, frankly, nothing ever happens. At the end I shake myself out of a stupor, take account of who won and who lost, and then get on with the rest of the movie. But not here: Black Panther‘s fight scenes were so full of plot and power dynamics and changes and actual substance that I couldn’t afford to zone out for even a second.
There were actually quite a few distracting plot holes. For instance, how does T’Challa survive the incident with the waterfall? How does the ice afterwards keep him alive? If the gorilla tribe are vegetarians as they claim to be, how do they have fishermen to retrieve T’Challa in the first place? If T’Chaka was so intent on keeping Wakanda a secret, why not silence Erik or wipe his memory or bring him into Wakanda like all the “broken white boys” that Shuri ended up taking care of? If all but one of the heart-shaped herbs were burned, then is T’Challa the last king? Ever? How will they justify his future progeny taking the throne? Will people start to realize that the monarchy no longer has an inherent blood power (anyone else who drinks the herb dies) and start a democracy?
Also, what is the history between T’Challa and his girlfriend? How long were they together? What did they see in each other? Why did they break up? Why did they get back together at the end? I sensed no chemistry whatsoever.
I feel like the intellectual debate in the movie was very topical, given the current isolationist political climate and decreased willingness to help other countries… Wakanda, an extremely prosperous nation, stands idly by and lets people in other countries experience starvation, sex trafficking, war, corruption, disease, and pollution. Many people within Wakanda, as well as the second villain, want Wakanda to do more. But will accepting refugees or revealing themselves to the outside world bring them down to the same level, open up their supply of vibranium for use in weapons, or make the world’s problems their problems?
This theme gets repeated throughout the film, and while it doesn’t go very far beyond the superficial level, T’Challa does end up learning his lesson and seeing a way that Wakanda can be hurt by being so secluded… But only one.
And although it isn’t explicitly mentioned, I found the cultural differences between T’Challa and his cousin interesting. T’Challa (raised in Wakanda) viewed the world as Wakandan/non-Wakandan (prosperous/poor), whereas Erik (raised in the USA) viewed the world as black/white (oppressed/oppressor). Erik doesn’t think that the entire world can get along, so he would rather have “his people” be on the oppression side; even if the net amount of violence and injustice stays the same, he just wants to be the beneficiary. T’Challa, on the other hand, ends up reaching out to friendship and believing that the entire world can be prosperous together. Erik is violent because he no longer believes that peace between two peoples can be achieved, and that it’s kill or be-killed. That may not be what the writers intended, but it’s similar to what would happen in real life.
There were also some things that I saw as plot holes that are really up for debate. For instance, I find it hard to believe that every Wakanda citizen has been a good secret-keeper. No one ever thought about using the technology for selfish conquest beyond Wakanda? No one ever got drunk and spilled the beans? No one ever fell in love with an outsider? No one ever pitied outsiders when say, the Rwandan genocide was happening next door? Every single Wakandan leader stuck to the exact same policies? Even when a challenger took the throne? Sure, this changed during the movie, but those events take place after thousands of years of Wakandan development. El Dorado is credibly hidden because Europeans hadn’t set foot in the Americas before, so only the locals heard rumors about it. But for Wakanda, Afro-Eurasian peoples have been in contact with each other from the beginning.
I also don’t buy that the mineral wealth prevented all problems in Wakanda. They eradicated every disease? What did they choose to do with autism/deafness/sexuality/other things that have been considered either disease or diversity depending on the era? What about wealth inequality? Or climate change? What about basic human greed and laziness? Was there ever a movement to get rid of the old line of succession? Will people be more inclined towards a democracy now that they’ve shown the monarchy is flawed? If they’re super advanced, are they currently having philosophical or religious debates about the morals of cloning and genetic modification? On that note, didn’t they ever have any religious discrepancies? Has their reliance on technology ever come into conflict with their traditions or religion? Even if no one has any troubles because everyone is fully taken care of, doesn’t that mean that everyone there lacks ambition and just lazes around all day, and thus Wakanda is really a dystopia instead of a Utopia?
Psssh, I’m not overthinking this, you’re overthinking this…
Overall, if you’re into superhero movies, this is definitely one worth the money.