When I went to see The Force Awakens and Rey started tossing a lightsaber round…it was like a need I didn’t know I had, a need I’d been carrying around for years, had finally been filled. I think it’s safe to assume Black Panther will be the same for a lot of people. Still, I have some…not criticisms exactly, but observations.
But first – the good:
1. The Dora Milaaje were just…damn. Every time Okoye had a fight scene I was nearly overwhelmed by all the sheer FUCKING AWESOME going on. Seriously, I could watch them fight for HOURS.
2. It’s nice to have a vision of the future (I know technically Black Panther is set in the present day, but the technology is futuristic, so…) that doesn’t look like it was designed by apple, that is vibrant and (pun not intended) bursting with colour, rather than purely sterile and white.
3. I was amused to see the “Museum of Great Britain” which (I’m reasonably certain) does not exist. I presume the British Museum (where such artefacts would be displayed) wouldn’t allow filming there, due to the film so brutally pointing out that all the exhibits are the product of colonial looting. (I was also amused that for the first time the Houses of Parliament doesn’t appear in the establishing shot of London, presumably because it’s under so much scaffolding).
4. Lupita’s hair. Actually everyone’s hair. And costumes. And I guess just the entire production design – this is a VERY good looking film, noteworthy because Marvel films (with one or two honourable exceptions) have been pretty bland visually.
5. Shuri was just plain adorable.
6. T’challa’s final speech sounded almost like a direct quotation of Jo Cox. I have no idea if that was intentional or not, but it was weirdly moving to hear an affirmation of shared humanity. We ARE one great tribe, and the sooner we all realise that the better off everyone will be. (International politics has taken such a depressing turn in the last few years that I think his speech ended up more powerful than it otherwise would have been).
The…not bad, but interesting:
7. The politics of Wakanda are fascinating. In fact, I think the politics are far more interesting than any of the characters, which is a shame. For instance, the film doesn’t really dig into WHY Wakanda is so isolationist, and when it began, which would be genuinely interesting to dig into. Going by the map, Wakanda seems to be fairly close to Uganda and DRC, which begs all kinds of questions – how did they maintain their isolationism when Idi Amin was in power, or when the war in Rwanda broke out? How have they dealt with having the constant nightmare of the Congo right on their doorstep? The history of modern Africa demonstrates that kind of instability is not easily contained. One would imagine that there were a lot of…wakandese(?) who would agree with Nakia that more should be done to help their neighbours. (I am not at all sure the total isolation the film implies was maintained is actually credible, mind you, given the massive destruction visited on Africa between say 1850-1930, but to their credit, Wakanda – in a mountain range somewhere in the Congo jungle – is in the right place for it to be plausible). (Note, I have absolutely no desire whatsoever to see a realistic film about the Belgian occupation of the Congo, as I like to sleep at night).
8. Following on from that point…it seems to me that Black Panther is really more a film about America, than it is about anything to do with Africa (which shouldn’t be a surprise – the clue is in the name). The whole question of how a superpower can responsibly operate, whether they should intervene on behalf of “the wretched of the earth” or look after their own people (and whether those things are actually mutually exclusive) is one of far more relevance to the US than anything at play in Africa politics. (African nations have intervened in each other’s politics when they’ve felt it necessary after all). The film also plays with ideas of pan-Africanism which feel far more relevant to the power of those ideas in America than in any modern African-state. I’m not saying that this is a BAD thing, by the way, just that it leapt out at me as I watched the film. Kilmonger’s entire motivation depends on the idea that black men are treated horribly in America – he is in many ways the most interesting character in the film – but I don’t know that the slave trade has the same totemic, original sin significance in Africa that it does in the US (because so many other awful things have happened in Africa since then). The film doesn’t really engage with the struggles of post-colonial states in any real way; it would be interesting to know how the idea of colonialism affects Wakanda’s isolationism, for instance – is the reason they don’t assert themselves more because they have seen the untrammelled damage technologically advanced nations can inflict when they want to? There’s an argument that it takes a country at least three generations to really recover from the legacy of colonialism, and at lot of African nations aren’t there yet.
9. That is not an adequate use of Forrest Whittaker.
10. That is not an adequate use of Angela Bassett.
11. In general, the character-writing feels quite thin – the politics are more interesting than any of the actual characters involved (as you can tell, because I droned on about them for hours). Killmonger is far and a way the most interesting character in the film, but I felt the actors did a lot to make T’Challa and Okoye (in particular) deeper and more interesting characters than they were on the page. Chadwick Boseman has the charisma to pull it off, but it would have been nice of the writers to give him some more notes to play.
12. Battle-rhinos? THOSE ARE ENDANGERED, WHAT ARE YOU DOING?
13. Trying to figure out where this fits in the Marvel timeline relative to Civil War makes my head hurt.
14. I have this complaint about the Thor films too – why does no one ever point out that these supposedly advanced societies haven’t managed to produce a DEMOCRACY? Does Marvel really want to imply that absolute monarchy is the best political system? Because I have problems with that, no matter who the king is.
15. I thought the UN had its big meetings in New York?
16. It seems odd to me that the film never mentions Ethiopia – the one African state that genuinely wasn’t colonised.