Black Panther (2018)

Black Panther




If ever there was a film that was going to be as bullet-proof as the Black Panther’s suit then it was this one.  The time is as right as it ever could be for releasing the first superhero film with an African-American lead (except that it’s not really the first) and it seems to be by general consensus – even before the film’s release – that if you don’t hail Black Panther as a seminal, groundbreaking five-star masterpiece then you’ll be able to hear the screams of “RACIST! “in darkest Africa.

Still, here goes.

I loved the first appearance of T’Challa/Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) in Captain America:  Civil War.  I thought that everything about the character looked great and I was really looking forward to his first solo outing.

Following a 1992 prologue the present-day action starts off one week after the events of Civil War before then tracking T’Challa to his Wakanda homeland, where he is to be crowned king after the death of his father.

The outside world believes that Wakanda is a third world nation, although it remains isolated and refuses all aid.  In fact, enormous holograms cover up the reality that nothing less than an enormous super-city exists there and that it is in fact the wealthiest nation in the world, due to its enormous quantities of vibranium, Earth’s most sought-after substance.

This is where my problems started.  Arthur C. Clarke once said something to the effect that any truly advanced technology would be indistinguishable from magic.  And that’s the way it is here.  T’Challa’s sister Shuri (Letitia Wright) makes things that are just so far ahead of anything the West has that I had no idea what was going on half the time.

Especially the teleporting.  What the hell was that?  And if like me you aren’t familiar with the 52-year old comic book character on which it is based, then the film isn’t going to help you.  Half the time I thought that I had wandered into either a Dr. Strange movie or a James Bond one, around the time that he was swanning about in invisible cars.

And then Shuri gives him his new suit.  Christ, don’t get me started.  Whatever happened to good old-fashioned costumes?  This is another one of those battle-armour things that do everything for you except make you breakfast in the morning and tell you what a great lover you are.  Remember the Tony Stark-designed one that ruined Spider-Man:  Homecoming?  It’s like that.  Any tension that is being built up goes right out the window because in one of these babies there is nothing that can defeat you.  You can take on armies, for heaven’s sake!  I hate this nonsense.  I mean, Iron Man has been like that since his origin; that’s what he uses.  But all these other supersuits just destroy any realism that there is left.

Anyway… in this jungle paradise there is growing political instability.  In a development that could have been really interesting, the topical ‘immigration question’ is raised and reversed, with some Wakandans believing that they should be sharing their gifts with the world and others objecting that taking in immigrants means that they bring their problems with them.  Don’t worry, it doesn’t go anywhere except towards a lame, barbed anti-Trump comment towards the end, that is as predictable as it is tedious.

“Diplomatic Immunity!!!”

Black Panther is the third film from director Ryan Coogler, who did the interesting Fruitvale Station [reviewed here] and the Rocky spin-off Creed, which I didn’t see.  What really makes this film (and by that I mean that I wouldn’t have enjoyed it at all without him) is the lead actor, Chadwick Boseman.  He simply dominates the screen:  handsome and charismatic, he exudes all the qualities of royalty and yet subtly suggests the insecurities he feels.

The back-up cast is also good.  It goes without saying that Forrest Whitaker as the high priest Zuri is at the very least watchable in anything he turns his hand to.  And Andy Serkis has a great old time acting without a suit for a change and effortlessly stealing every scene he’s in as an arms dealer who is so ‘Sattt Afrikaaan’ that I kept expecting him to do  Joss Ackland from Lethal Weapon 2 and start yelling about ‘Diplomatic Immunity!!!’  In fact I was kind of sorry that he wasn’t the main villain, that honour going to the less-than-interesting but very swaggering Michael B. Jordan as Killmonger.

And talking about villains, I actually thought that CIA man Everett Ross (Martin Freeman) was one when he started waving his gun about like a maniac, firing indiscriminately around a packed casino.  Then he completely lost me by turning into one of the good guys.  I guess that old Martin got to be the token decent white man.

Black Panther is a pleasant enough 18th addition to the DC Cinematic Universe, streets ahead of Dr. Strange, streets behind Ant-Man.  But it’s not the life-changing experience that you’re being led to believe.  Some of the comments on how important this film is, are on a par with Pauline Kael’s hysterically over-the-top pronouncements on Last Tango in Paris back in the ’seventies.

Oh and since we seem to be having director-themed movies these days – you know, a female director for Wonder Woman and an African-American director for Black Panther — do you think it’s too late to get David Cronenberg for the upcoming Ant-Man and the Wasp?

OK, he’s not an insect but he did The Fly?  He made Spider?

Sorry… just couldn’t resist it.






Author: Charley Brady

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  1. Kilmonger’s been held up as one of the better villains in that he at least has some degree of right on his side (note I’m seeing the movie Saturday).

    Another thing is that all too often black countries in africa are portrayed as shitholes (when in fact some like Ghana are relatively stable and prosperous.)

  2. Good to hear from you, Ryan! And I hope that you enjoy this on Saturday. There IS a lot to like about it; I’ve just found that I get on better with the Marvel films when I get completely blindsided — as with the first ‘Iron Man’, ‘The Winter Soldier’, ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ or ‘Ant-Man’.

    It’s all just down to personal taste. I loved DCs ‘Justice League’ and ended up seeing it a second time, something I doubt many people would agree with me on. HATED ‘Thor: Ragnarok’ with a passion and again one where I’m in a minority. It’s all just personal taste.

    With ‘Black Panther’ it was impossible to avoid the hype — it’s at a ridiculous level. For the first appearance of a black superhero give me the first two ‘Blades’ any day. Again, they just SURPRISED me!

    I’ve been in a few African countries over the years and of course, you’re right. And I’ve no idea what the stability of Namibia is, but it looks so beautiful that I really hope to see it one day.

    I’ll be curious as to how you get on come Saturday….

  3. One thing I want to say is that Black Panther DOES point out that racism is FAR more of an issue than people want to admit.

    Even places that pride themselves on being relatively enlightened like California have problems (there’s one case, that of Kevin Cooper where the evidence has fallen apart and even DNA testing can be argued to have been forged. It’s gotten to the point where a lot of very respected judges are saying “the police conspired to railroad this guy and the courts just turned a blind eye to it.”)

    Basically the idea is that a single black guy would have been able to overpower two fit adults WITH LOADED WEAPONS nearby and drag a child back into the house without mommy getting her pistol and plugging him. More importantly the state ALSO asks people to believe that a black burglar who only wanted to steal money and car keys suddenly decided to reenact the manson family murders on people. AND you’re asked to ignore the records that VERY clearly show that TWO bloodstained shirts were found (which kinda puts the kibosh on the one guy did it.) AND accept the clearly horseshit explanation that there was only one shirt.

    In spite of this a lot of politicians still get furious if you argue that the san berandino sheriff’s department and DA conspired to frame him even though both organizations are basically a bunch of corrupt hillbillies,

  4. Or more recently in chicago. Basically in the 70s-90s a commander (Jon Burge) Basically tortured a lot of black men (shit like electroshock to the nads, strapping them to a radiator, suffocating them with a black bag and playing russian roulette with them.) A lot of innocent people were thrown in prison by this, and in one case where a guy was falsely convicted of murdering his family and 5 others it turned out that it was most likely the state’s star witness……and burge actively conspired to protect the witness even though he knew damn well the witness was most likely the true killer. One of the cops even told the father “I don’t care that seven people died. They did us a favor. Ain’t nothing but niggers died in that fire.” (note I’m paraphrasing the cop.)

    ANYWAY Burge was fired, and ultimately the grieving father was pardoned by the governor (for added karmic justice it was his lawsuit that finally got burge jailed).

    Last year the chicago council approved a course teaching about how Burge tortured a lot of innocent people, and how he was a disgusting racist (which he was.) The chicago pd argued that it was “biased” and “unfair” even though burge was guilty as shit and got off lightly compared to his victims. One guy even went out of his way to imply the grieving father was guilty even though the feds reinvestigated and cleared him.

    THAT’S what people mean when they talk about white privilege. They want to talk about a genuine problem that occurred in chicago, and the fact that yes the police kinda WERE the bad guys here. However the cops get angry and don’t want to acknowledge Burge’s crimes or even worse defend them.

    Also here’s link on the Cooper case. It’s basically one of the biggest cases of clownfuck lunacy ever.

  5. ‘Clownfuck lunacy’ indeed — a new one on me — and thanks for the link. But we’re still getting away from the complete over-selling of this film as some sort of gamechanger. It’s a decent enough superhero film. I doubt (but who knows) that it will be held up as any kind of classic in a hundred years’ time. And nothing wrong with that, it’s obviously a crowd-pleaser now.

    This idea that some people are putting forward whereby you are a racist if you’re not gushing all over the damned thing is just nonsense, though. I’m surprised that they don’t go the whole way and change the title to ‘African-American Panther’. Of course they’d probably find themselves accused of insensitivity to those among us who identify as wild animals.

    Here’s a link of my own, because I would go along with most of what this guy said in yesterday’s ‘Journal’:

  6. The issue is that some of the things the movie touches on (racism) are still a problem. Kill monger is a psycho but he’s right in that Wakanda COULD use it’s resources to help the world rather than hiding in the shadows. At the same time he’s basically consumed by his pain and his loss. He’s like Magneto in that regard in that you can see where he’s coming from even if his methods are abhorrent.

    I mentioned Jon Burge as an example. To this day a lot of people in chicago are still reluctant to talk about the full extent of his crimes, or the fact that a lot of people turned a blind eye. Burge only went to jail because one of his victims sued him and he lied rather than plead the fifth (which gave the feds the rope to hang the bastard.) Or you’re accused of “demonizing the cops” and “preaching racial politics”. The fact that the black community has a VERY legitimate grievance is ignored.

    In that regard Killmonger is one of the better bad guys. He’s not entirely wrong even if he’s psycho and his death scene was VERY well done

  7. Or going back to Thor; I was more lukewarm (there were good parts and bad) but Hela was pretty good. Pretty much EVERY nation has a part of their past they don’t want to talk about (Israelis don’t like the Deir Yassin Massacre or the Lydda death march for instance.) Hell Americans have a LOT of shit they can’t talk about.

    For instance, what we did to the native americans. Or the fact that we inspired the eugenics movement (hitler cribbed a lot of his stuff from us.)

    On that score Hela worked as a villain. She’s the reminder of Asgard’s dark past that they’re ashamed of facing

  8. Okay: here we go, Ryan; first off, Hela was excellent; about the only part of that godawful Thor movie I liked.

    Second, I’m getting this feeling, reading between the lines, that you did’t like ‘African-American Panther’ as much as you thought that you would. Just a feeling.

    Now… ‘what we did to the Native Americans’: my father, dead these past fourteen years, was one of the greatest supporters — long before it was fashionable — of American Indians that you could ever meet. He was a great man and a humane man. Also a very tough man. He didn’t let his adoration of them blind him. I was over in the family home at Christmas and my mother still has a beautiful painting hanging in her bedroom that was given to her by dad: It is of a native American couple hugging each other with the caption:

    ‘Just as the Sun warms the Earth/ Love warms our lives’.

    My dad saw the beauty of the American-Indian culture, but it did not blind him to the harsher realities of that culture. I took away (with my mother’s permission) a lot of what he had on them. And this in particular intrigued me:

    ‘ must not depict the plains Indians as having been for any great lengths of time in the locations where white men discovered them. Virginia Trenholm , a leading expert on the Arapaho, claims that they didn’t get that far south until 1790, which is highly significant, because this would put them there somewhat AFTER the first French and English fur trappers. I have looked at all the evidence and have concluded that they must have been there somewhat earlier than that; perhaps 1756 is premature, but I think not….Please do not fall into the trap of writing about white men intruding onto areas that the Indians held from time immemorial… [Michener, ‘Centennial’].

    My point here is somewhat similar to Robert E. Howard’s argument (and we have had many a robust debate on that gentleman’s racial thinking, Ryan): that not one of us ‘owns’ any stretch of land. I’m in awe of how much Howard — a Texan who never strayed more than a few miles from where he lived for any appreciable length of time and who had no real access to books — grasped the essentials of nomadic, continental drift.

    Ryan, I would suggest that it is more than Americans who have a lot of shit they don’t want to talk about: I’m Scottish and we have a few less-than-admirable things in our background as well. Fact is that no matter WHAT the Bible says, you can not go around with the sins of your father hanging out of you forever.

    We’re at a good stage now — guys like you prove that and dinosaurs like me are trying to catch up — where we are at least trying to make up for/eradicate the sins of the past.

    What is it you call it? ‘The dark past that they’re ashamed of facing’. Well said.

  9. Yes the native american conflict could be complex (both sides could be awful); I was more speaking the sand creek massacre (Which even at the time was denounced as an atrocity and directly convinced many natives that the white man would never want peace so thanks a lot chivington) or the broken treaties. There were a lot of those and at best they were a dick move. Or the trail of tears. Continental drift is a thing but that doesn’t change that a lot of what americans did was pretty fucking awful.

    Native americans are people and like other people they are capable of both the most noble kindness and the greatest evil (Clarence Ray Allen, one of the most vile motherfuckers ever was part native american).

    I enjoyed it. I let myself get pulled out and once out it’s hard to get back in. But Kilmonger was a good bad guy and I did like his demise.

  10. Okay, you are always, always intriguing, Ryan. I just feel that you have a good soul. At least one of my ex-wives would argue against me even HAVING one.

    I’m going to take it as a given that you have read ‘Bury my Heart at Wounded Knee’, Dee Brown’s superb history of what we did to the Native Americans. If you haven’t then I would advise you to be prepared to simply put the book down when you finish it and cry. It is that affecting.

    How on earth human beings can inflict such atrocities on other human beings is beyond me. Always has been; always will be.

    As to Killmonger’s demise — yes, I will agree that there was a nobility in him. But much more of a nobility in his nemesis. I loved the fact that T’Challa took him out to see the sunset that his father had always promised him. In fairness, I loved the fact that Killmonger took the decision to die as his forefathers had done, jumping from ships rather than accepting confinement or slavery.

    On the other hand he was a mass-murderer, seeing his way as the only way. And that I do not nor ever will get.

    His way was basically (and please correct me if I’m wrong on this) to wipe out whites. That’s just the way I saw it: he wanted to wipe out the white man’s way of life.

    As much as I disliked a lot of the film, this was what struck me the most.

    Here I go again with Robert E. Howard: one of the concepts that he put forward in his own fear of black culture was that they would rise and destroy the white culture. Look at ‘Skull-Face’; look at ‘Black Canaan’. Why is it wrong for him to suggest these fears in 1930 and yet okay for a film written in the 21st century to do the same thing? I just don’t get it.

    This is where I just don’t buy the whole spiel of ‘Black Panther’ being a groundbreaking film. It’s not; it had the chance to be but it’s not. It’s just another superhero film — and nothing wrong with that.

    But it doesn’t even come CLOSE to being as groundbreaking as Howard’s ‘Black Canaan’ was. It is so clear there that Howard was attracted to black women. A Texan in 1930 being attracted to black women.

    Why wouldn’t he be? African-American women are beautiful — why wouldn’t you be attracted?

    I’ve written elsewhere on this blog about his short story ‘The Hyena’ and if there was ever a depiction of a white guy being sexually envious of what he sees as a black man’s prowess then it is that one.

    Plain fact is that there was an excuse for Howard back then; there is no excuse for us now. We should have gotten over all of this old bullshit. Yet we haven’t; and now the whole wheel has turned so full-circular that we’re letting it go to the other extreme — and I’m not on for that either.

    In many ways I hate the way that this world is turning; in other ways I love it. When I was growing up we couldn’t have even HAD this discussion!

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