Film Review: Black Panther

This post is super late, sorry!! I started writing this like, right after I saw Black Panther and then life happened and this completely fell off my radar. But here it is now!

Holy shit, I am like, legitimately shooketh. I watched Black Panther (I actually watched it twice, two days in a row—it was that good), and I loved it. It is too good for this world. Visually, it was beautiful, the characters were compelling and well-developed, the story was tight and paced well, and the story arc was both really captivating and relevant. There were so many things I loved about it, and it’s honestly a little difficult for me to find things I didn’t love. Maybe watching it a third time is in order?

If you haven’t seen Black Panther yet, GO SEE IT. Go see it twice. Or more than that, whatever. It is so worth it. And then come back and read my review of it. Spoilers ahead!

What I loved…

Erik Killmonger: Ok, so I didn’t love Killmonger in the sense of like, YES GO REPLACE T’CHALLA AND DEFEAT THE WHOLE WORLD, YOU HAVE MY FULL SUPPORT. No, he’s still an ass, and still totally in the wrong when it comes to his “an eye-for-an-eye” revenge-y mentality. But as a villain, he was so, so intriguing. I love villains who are complex—villains who aren’t just a Bad Guy Because The Film Needs A Villain. A really compelling villain has become the way he/she is because of his/her backstory and because of the things he/she has gone through. I love when a villain has real reasons for feeling a great deal of anger and hatred towards the protagonist and what the protagonist stands for. And I especially love when there are moments where you can empathize with, or at least feel for, the villain, and moments where the protagonist doesn’t seem all that golden either. As a villain, Killmonger checks all these boxes. His backstory is just heartbreaking. As a child, he went through way more pain and loss than most adults ever do, and more than the protagonists did. When we find out the truth of what happened to N’Jobu, it feels much more natural to sympathize with Killmonger rather than understand T’Chaka’s reasons for his choices and actions. We side with N’Jobu and Killmonger in this instance; not T’Chaka. The scene where Killmonger takes the vibranium herb and is transported to the ancestral plane is one of the most gut-wrenching scenes in the film. It really serves to humanize Killmonger. For the first time, we see the bond Killmonger has with his father, and we see the pain that both of them have had to deal with. It’s such a stark difference from T’Challa’s first time taking the herb and seeing his father—both T’Challa and Killmonger have their own share of challenges, but the challenges they each face are so different. I love how Killmonger was developed as a foil to T’Challa. Where T’Challa felt a sense of duty and belonging, Killmonger had no home, no family, and no legacy to uphold. He didn’t have a royal upbringing like T’Challa did, and he wasn’t sheltered from racism and bigotry. His anger at Wakanda, and their isolationism and unwillingness to get involved, is not unwarranted. He is angry at Wakanda’s inaction—and rightfully so. There’s a moment when Killmonger first arrives in Wakanda and faces the Wakandan leaders, including T’Challa, and he asks, “Where was Wakanda when our people were suffering?” (or something to that effect; can’t recall the exact quote). And he’s absolutely right. Killmonger isn’t angry for nothing. He has seen and experienced oppression, and he lost his father due to a choice T’Chaka made—T’Chaka chose Wakanda over his father and over him. Killmonger’s character was, in part, molded by the actions of the protagonists.

Killmonger’s role as a villain was also more significant; he served as a catalyst for change in Wakanda. T’Challa realized that sharing Wakanda’s resources was important, and that remaining isolated and not helping was wrong, because of what he learned about what happened to Killmonger and N’Jobu. I love when a villain has a really relevant place in the story; where the story progresses because of the role the villain played. After Killmonger was defeated, Wakanda didn’t just go back to the way it was. Wakanda changed; its future changed. Killmonger’s presence in Wakanda made an impact, and an ultimately positive one at that—which is what makes him such an interesting villain. Despite the fact that Killmonger was motivated by hatred, his defeat was what led to a change in how Wakanda interacts with the world and how it responds to the bigotry that’s present outside of its borders. Killmonger is such a nuanced, complicated, compelling character—and Michael B. Jordan absolutely did the character justice. (I mean seriously—THE MAN CAN ACT.)

Theme of community: The film really emphasized the importance of community, and I thought that was really cool. The community motif sort of underlies almost every scene, and it’s even used to distinguish the differences between T’Challa and Killmonger. When Killmonger defeats T’Challa and takes his place as king, the first thing Nakia does is to seek help from the Jabari tribe—who live in the mountains and who have rejected the Panther rule and the new technology. In the beginning of the film, we see this tribe as almost an enemy of the royal family. After all, M’Baku challenges T’Challa, and the tribe is essentially separated from the rest of the tribes under Panther rule. I love how what turns the tide in the final battle is the Jabari tribe coming to help fight and putting their differences aside for the good of Wakanda. Nakia’s mentality—and the mentality of most of the other characters in the film—is that they cannot win alone; they need each other and need to help each other. In the film, the characters find strength not from themselves, but from those they love and trust. In the final battle, when W’Kabi’s tribe is attacking T’Challa, T’Challa is having a hard time fighting back. What gives him the edge and helps him regain the advantage is when he sees his sister, Shuri, fighting with Killmonger. That’s what makes him realize he needs to win—because he needs to help her. Saving himself isn’t what gave T’Challa strength; instead, it was saving those he loved. Throughout the film, we see how the importance of community is emphasized, yet Wakanda continues to remain isolated from the rest of the world. At the end of the film, there’s no longer a disconnect between one of the central themes of the film and Wakanda.

Supporting character arcs: Almost every character in Black Panther was well-developed. M’Baku was only in a few scenes in the film, but he stole every scene he was in and really made the most of his screen time. His dialogue was on point, and I loved his sense of humor. He was a minor character, yet still had a character arc. Okoye was another supporting character that I loved—she wasn’t the main character, but her character still had a clear storyline, and she did grow throughout the film (learning that it’s not enough to just support the throne; but rather, who sits on it, what he stands for, and what’s best for Wakanda). Also, can I just say—Okoye is my fucking queen. Like, she is my soul sister. I want to be her. She was hands down the best female character in the film.

Who run the world? Girls: Speaking of female characters, I love how the film had so many empowered female characters. The female characters were central to the plot, and T’Challa genuinely needed them and relied on them. Shuri, Nakia, Okoye, Ramonda, the female soldiers led by Okoya—like, holy shit. I love how women had real, meaningful representation in this film. The female characters were strong, yet compassionate. They weren’t one-sided or stereotypes of a “strong female character” or “damsel in distress.” They were well-developed and had equal weight in carrying the story forward.

What I didn’t love…

Honestly, I am at a loss when I try to think of what I didn’t love. There are a few things I could nitpick at, like Agent Ross’s character (which was silly, but honestly I didn’t mind and he didn’t bother me), or using vibranium as a plot hole filler the way a lot of Hollywood movies use computer hacking (Ok, this is the Marvel Universe and of course it’s going to be a little bit ridiculous; I mean Peter Parker was bitten by a radioactive spider, FFS). But overall, I don’t really dislike these per se. I was really happy with the film, and it had way more positives than negatives for me.

Questions I still have

WHAT HAPPENED TO KILLMONGER’S MOTHER? I know that the interwebs has information on this, but I have not looked into this yet. Regardless, I think this would be something worth exploring in some way. Also, I have not seen Infinity Wars yet, so I know that there is a gap in my knowledge (I know, I know—don’t @ me, I haven’t had time! I’ll get to it when I get to it).

Final Thoughts

There is so much to love about this film. Even watching it twice in a row, then again a few weeks later on a plane ride to Asia—it was amazing each time. The cultural representation was so empowering—and having just seen Crazy Rich Asians and realizing how much Asian representation impacted me, I get how much representation matters. It sets a precedent for, and opens up conversations about, inclusion and diversity. And seeing oneself represented, whether in film or music or anything, is such an empowering feeling.

 

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