Monday, March 26, 2018

Black Panther (2018)

This was the second year in a row we've seen a breakout African-American movie released in the dead of winter and I've been surprised both times. I thought Get Out was pretty good, but it's not already in the top 20 highest-grossing movies of all time. After Black Panther became a certifiable megahit practically on its opening weekend, I felt somewhat duty bound to hie myself off to see it. (Not, full disclosure, that I've done so for any of the following movies ahead of Black Panther's current #13 place on the all-time list: Jurassic World, Furious 7, Avengers: Age of Ultron, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Beauty and the Beast, and The Fate of the Furious.) I'm duty bound to report that Black Panther is indeed a superhero movie, with stunts, boffo special effects, a Stan Lee cameo, baffling costumery, the sense you're already a little behind, etc. But it's directed by Ryan Coogler, whose Fruitvale Station and especially Creed really impressed me. It also has wonderful complexities, some rousing moments, an African setting, and an all-star majority black cast and good performances all over the place (Chadwick Boseman, Lupita Nyong'o, Danai Gurira, Angela Bassett, Forest Whitaker, Winston Duke ... I was sorry to see them shoehorn in a white guy, Martin Freeman, as perfectly likable as he is). Black Panther first came to life in the comics in 1966, the same year that the Black Panther Party did, though I'm not sure of any connection. Wikipedia describes his superhero essentials: "... relies on his proficiency in science, rigorous physical training, hand-to-hand combat skills, and access to wealth and advanced technology to combat his enemies." Which sounds like Batman actually. Things are more mystical now, at least in this movie, what with a magical scientifical purple herbal brew, a powerful metallic element called vibranium, and generous helpings of we-can-do-anything technology. I like conceiving of a superhero as the king of an African nation—the mysterious Wakanda—and even better I like the central conflict in this story: whether Wakanda should continue to stay out of sight of the rest of the world or share its powerful technology, notably with Africans everywhere who are less fortunate. Michael B. Jordan, who is shaping up to be Coogler's Robert De Niro, is stellar as the villain who isn't really a villain if you think about it. He's not even that misguided. He usually has a point. On the other hand, times being what they are, he also reminded me of Donald Trump in his grab for power and the ways he uses it, not to mention the deep-seated psychological wounding. We're supposed to be going to the movies to get away from this stuff!!! Worth seeing even if you don't like superhero movies that much (though it is a superhero movie). P.S. In the contest to give an imaginary metallic element the silliest name, this movie's "vibranium" still lags behind the gold standard, Avatar's "unobtanium."

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