It's actually been more than a week since I watched this movie, but procrastination got the better of me, and I just didn't feel like penning anything too soon. The first day after watching it I felt a little positive about the world, and might've gotten sucked into the feel-good vibes of Wakanda. Anyway, it's had some time to marinate, so I can get into it a little now.
The movie starts off with a nondescript flashback that hearkens back to King T'chaka's time as the titular hero; from there the movie places us right in the thick of things some time shortly after Captain America: Civil War, which was, of course, our first introduction to the Black Panther character in the MCU. So T'challa now has to embrace his role as leader of Wakanda, in addition to his duties as the Black Panther. Aiding him in his administration of his duties are the very nimble and skilled all-female bodyguard force - the Dora Milaje - headed by the fearless Okoye (Danai Gurira). Also fitted in as a spy (and love interest) is Nakai (Lupita Nyong'o). Rounding out the entourage of strong female leads is the Queen Mother, Ramonda (Angela Bassett) and the tech-savvy little sister, Shuri (Letitia Wright).
The female dynamic in this movie was wonderful; the women were strong and intricate to the mythos of Wakanda; unlike a movie like "Wonder woman" where the Amazons stand out as strong warriors in opposition to a male dominated world that is mostly oblivious, the world of Black Panther lets us imagine that the strong woman is embraced, accepted and indeed needed for Wakanda to function properly.
It is essential to explore the concept of "World" as this movie lays it out. The world-building that went into this movie is mind-boggling. Unlike another MCU movie franchise - Thor - which also consists of an otherworldly setting, Wakanda has the feel of a "lived-in"city. No offense to Thor, but, personally, Asgard always felt like a beautiful pearl that wasn't really habitable; it felt like that dinner scene in the first Batman movie when Bruce Wayne sits uncomfortably in the dining room with his dinner date, but can't remember if he's ever had the occasion to sit in that room before. Wakanda seems mysterious as it fades into view away from the illusion of backwardness cast about it, and every one of its settings (with the exception of some poorly rendered "green screen" dreamscapes) come alive. Kudos to the director, the vfx team, and the costume and set designer for scouring African locales for ideas aplenty; the film brims with rich colours and the complexity of Wakandan culture is teased gloriously.
Some people might complain about the pacing of the first act, but in my books it is perfect; enough time to immerse yourself into the many layers of the make-believe world of Wakanda, and to invest yourself in the stakes so that your heart skips a beat once all the moving parts start to complicate matters.
Wakanda is a technological behemoth that hides itself out of sight to prevent the rest of the world from disturbing its peace. In this way, they are able to keep the benefits and stores of unimaginably powerful Vibranium to themselves, but at the cost of allowing the world to perpetrate atrocities to their black brothers and sisters in the diaspora. This is the underlying thread that dogs T'challa's nascent kingship with his need to be as great a leader as his father, but also to steer clear of traditions that might be less beneficial to the monarchy than initially thought; it is the same thread that also brings Eric Killmonger into the fray with all his irreverence, iconoclasm and vengefully militant stance.
Does the movie live up to the hype? I would say no. Don't get me wrong, it's a wonderful movie, well-acted and a pretty solid effort.The hype machine went all out for this movie: black director, predominantly (Pan-African) black cast, black writers...blackity black black! There's been no way to escape any of this.
Is this the first Black "Marvel" hero committed to screen? Certainly not. Honours for that achievement go to Blade which was an eclectic piece of work, and probably the first seriously successful superhero outing predating the MCU and DCEU. Hats off to Blade for also giving us serious vampire baddies in a day and age when "Twilight" has scarred our minds; and lastly, Blade was probably the first R-rated comic book put to screen.
As you can tell, I am a fan of the Blade Duology, but back to Black Panther. The movie makes good use of most of its characters, practically all of whom are introduced to us for the first time. Every one out here is massively talented and well put to use. Heck, even the extras are immaculate. The only return characters are Martin Freeman's Everett Ross (Civil War), and Andy Serkis' Ulysses Klaue (Age of Ultron). As with all films MCU, there is a dash of humor here and there, but it never gets to be overwhelming. Even the gallant Okoye gets to get in a few jabs at T'challa for his missteps on the battlefield after the casual "I never freeze" boast; and Shuri naughtily discards the decorum of royalty for the trappings of a mad scientist any day.
Michael B. Johnson is given a good villainous role to dig his teeth into. He seems as irreverent in this role as he did in Creed. The movie shows us the things that have marked his upbringing, and at times it manages to get us to sympathize with him; his militancy is off-putting, but even then, one is left to wonder whether a person can surpass all the bad events that colour their initial upbringing. Better yet, one is also left to theorize whether we as a people are capable of rising above the despicable methods that our past tormentors and colonizers have used to subdue us if reality shows that they actually work. Would we be able to carve out new paths, or to merely perfect these dubious acts and use them to fight back "tooth for tooth". Reminded me of "Malcolm vs. Martin" to some extent (and don't blast me for calling people heroes or villains....there are inklings of the differing mindsets at play here).
The only sad thing about the movie is how little they use Ulysses Klaue. We only got a smidgen of him in Age of Ultron, and the same pretty much happens here. He was basically "Von-Struckered" (I don't care if that's not yet a term, I'm claiming it and I'm using it)! Marvel has got to get better about dealing with multiple villains in the same movie; they can't just pile on the villains, and then leave some in a floating mess down the creek...that is unacceptable.
This movie leaves us with many loose threads that could be great fodder for the next Black Panther; it is basically impossible to give any details away without "spoiling" the movie, but rest assured that the Wakanda we started with certainly isn't the same Wakanda at the movie's end; add to this the fact that the events of "Infinity War", whose final battle seems poised to take place in Wakanda, things are bound to get plenty complicated very soon. And I for one am looking forward to everything new this movie will bring to the MCU. These are indeed great time. Wakanda Forever!