When you see something like this, with a $200 million budget, it really makes you think… why can’t DC get this right? They supposedly spent $300 million on Justice League and somewhere between $250-300 million on Batman vs Superman. Now, I didn’t hate Justice League, although it definitely had some major issues that bring me back to my first question; why can’t DC get this right?
I’m not talking about critical acclaim; let’s put the Tomatometer and Oscar nominations aside. I’m not talking about box office numbers; let’s ignore what it pulled in both domestically and internationally. I’m talking about creating a movie that is simply beautiful, in the most objective way possible. At the surface, Justice League clearly had some moments where you felt like it was the year 2000. No one thought Steppenwolf look good, right? No one thought there were any instances where anything in Black Panther looked that unpolished, right?
But this isn’t about DC, although it is so much easier to explain why a superhero movie is good when you compare it to ones that failed in certain areas. With that being said, let’s start at the beginning of the film… at the origin. I know a lot of people who didn’t read the comics or recent TV series, who had a lot of problems with Justice League because they didn’t know enough about the main characters.
It really makes you think about the planning they must have put into the Marvel Cinematic Universe all those years ago, and just how many secrets are being kept behind closed doors. For those of you who didn’t notice, we were first introduced to Wakanda back in Avengers: Age of Ultron. While we didn’t see the Black Panther himself until Captain America: Civil War, comic book readers immediately knew that Klaw (Ulysses Klaue, Andy Serkis’ character) stole the vibranium that he gave to Ultron from Wakanda. Fast forward to this film and everyone knows that this was the case, since it was clearly explained in this movie, but even if you didn’t see any of the other MCU films, this movie provided you a beautiful (and more importantly quick!) depiction of the history of Wakanda and the Black Panther.
So, here we are, watching a film that has (through two other films) created a villain and the titular hero, whom we are already familiar with. Within the first few minutes, it gives you a bigger picture of the history of Wakanda and introduces you to the other villain in the film. This brings up my only creative issue with this film. They didn’t do either of these two justice. Klaw is Black Panther’s archenemy, but they turned this genius scientist in a smuggling thug. Now, this wasn’t Ryan Coogler’s doing, this was done movies ago. The creative team behind this film did, however, seemingly decide to kill off this supervillain without letting him ever flourish. That could prove to be a lost opportunity in Black Panther sequels, at least for comic book fans.
Instead, they focused on making Killmonger the archenemy of this film, which is a fair move since his only nemesis was Black Panther. (Klaw was the Fantastic Four’s enemy first.) It also, I think, served the overall narrative that Coogler was trying to create in a much more significant way. Marvel comics are ridiculously complicated in many instances; I can’t tell you how many times Killmonger died. Instead of picking away at all of the finer details, I decided to appreciate the story that the creative team was trying to tell, since it was so meaningful. This, however, is much more open to interpretation than anything that has been said thus far.
Killmonger was raised in Harlem, but they decided to bring him to Oakland. Both of these places are extremely important locations when it comes to the development of modern black culture, but Coogler (who was born in Oakland) was surely trying to pay homage to his home. I was thoroughly impressed by Coogler’s Creed, so I was sure that he’d be able to tell a moving story, and he did, although I’m still trying to decipher all of his messages. Their was so much depth in this narrative, a lot of which was created by modernizing Killmonger. There was this juxtaposition throughout the film that set the perfect tone: incredible technology and ancient rituals, futuristic weapons and hand-to-hand combat, etc. A man, or a monster rather, who was created by the mistakes of an entity that had the power to change the world but chose not to for self-preservation. It spoke volumes of the world we live in.
At some points, you even questioned whether Killmonger was a villain at all. A leader of a Wakandan tribe, including other elders, seemed to agree with his point of view that the oppressed deserved the opportunity to topple the corruption that brought about such inequality, although I don’t think that word was ever used in the film. Overall, his methods were far too extreme, but his influence and place in the end was unquestionable. Not only did his story, and his existence, push T’Challa to the point that he decided to spread Wakanda’s wealth and power, but he also had one of the most powerful lines that I’ve heard.
“Bury me in the ocean with my ancestors who jumped from ships, cause they knew death was better than bondage.”
I’ve tried to avoid reading reviews of the movie and social media in general, but Jordan’s character and performance are already, clearly, the most controversial part of this film. I can’t relate to this line the way so many can, but if the meaning behind these words doesn’t mean something to you… if you can’t make an effort to understand where it’s coming from, then you’re the reason that inequality still exists to the extent that it does. I’m not saying that you need to go out there and do anything extreme or change your way of living, but start to think about the way you act. Well, we’ll save all that for another time.
But again, can we just show some appreciation for a beautifully made film. The soundtrack, the editing, the visual effects, the casting, the writing, the acting, the sets, the costumes… they were all so well conceived and incredibly executed. Black Panther was a work of art and a social narrative. Coogler managed to integrate every emotion seamlessly, while developing characters enough to satisfy the audience and keeping the film short enough to leave you wanting more. And while we could talk about this forever, let’s end on an incredibly satisfying note. Who else loved the chemistry in the scene between Andy Serkis and Martin Freeman? I’m sure they couldn’t wait to recreate some of the tension between Bilbo and Gollum. Also, who else couldn’t help but grin during that first post credit scene? Only time will tell!