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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Review – Star Wars: The Last Jedi

After a week of waiting and scrupulously avoiding social media lest I come across spoilers, I finally had the chance to watch Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Overall, I enjoyed it and I think it is absolutely worth watching (maybe twice or thrice!). Read on for more of what I liked, disliked, and questions that need answering.

SPOILERS AHEAD. Proceed at your own risk. (Also, this is a long post. Grab a drink, have a snack, and settle in to read this.)

What I liked…

Kylo Ren and Rey. Honestly, I thought Kylo Ren/Ben Solo and Rey carried the entire film. I found myself anticipating their scenes during scenes with the other characters because Kylo and Rey were that compelling to watch onscreen. The lightsaber fight scene after Kylo kills Snoke is my favorite scene in the entire film (and quite possibly my favorite lightsaber fight scene in the entire series). The chemistry between Adam Driver and Daisy Ridley is perfect—they are able to strike a great balance between having a natural ease with each other, but also having a good deal of tension. I love the idea of the protagonist and antagonist striking up a friendship/relationship. It adds a lot more depth to both of them, and watching Kylo and Rey connect over their shared feelings of isolation made me root for both of their characters, even though they were on opposite sides. I found myself sympathizing with Kylo Ren—which is not an easy feat considering he killed Han Solo in The Force Awakens. Kylo Ren and Rey both had amazing character development in this film, and I hope that in Episode IX, JJ Abrams carries on what Rian Johnson started. I know the whole Reylo ship began back in Force Awakens—and though I honestly didn’t really notice their chemistry in that film, after watching The Last Jedi, I am officially so here for Reylo.

Conflicts between light vs. dark. The relationship between Kylo Ren and Rey ties into this theme, but this theme is highlighted in other ways as well. I really love how light and dark aren’t so cut and dried, the way they have been for the previous seven films (though Rogue One plays with this theme a bit). With Kylo and Rey, we see them both tap into their light and dark sides. Rey willingly taps into her dark side when training with Luke, rather than shutting it out the way previous Jedi had been taught. Kylo Ren isn’t all bad either—we see how torn up he is after killing Han, and we see the constant conflict and the push/pull between his dark and light side. Even Luke’s character development in this film shows this conflict—he’s not the pure, perfect Jedi hero who helped lead the Rebellion to victory. In the film, when Luke sees Ben Solo/pre-Kylo get more powerful and more tapped into the dark side, he momentarily considers killing him before realizing the error in his thinking—a mistake that led to Ben Solo turning over to the dark side to serve Snoke. Even the legendary Luke Skywalker is human and prone to human temptations and errors in judgment. Furthermore, we even see that the ultra-wealthy in Canto Bight have earned their wealth not only by selling weapons to the First Order but to the Resistance as well. I love how this film subverts the theme of light vs. dark and shows that it’s not completely black and white. Playing with the concept of light vs. dark in this way adds a lot more dimension to the characters and challenges us to view the light and dark sides differently.

YODA. Need I say more?

The idea of non-exclusivity. I know that the revelation of Rey’s parents is quite a controversial topic. There were those who were so sure (or who really wanted) Rey to be Luke’s daughter or be related to Luke somehow. (Honestly, I wasn’t a huge fan of this theory. It’s too obvious/simple, and I really didn’t get fatherly vibes from Luke and Rey’s interactions. It’s like if Sirius Black actually did turn out to be Voldemort’s servant in Prisoner of Azkaban, instead of Peter Pettigrew. It’s too straightforward; it’s not complicated enough.) There were those who thought that Rey might be a Palpatine based on her lightsaber technique and why Kylo Ren was so fascinated with/threatened by her. There were those who, like me, were so convinced (and really wanted) Rey to be descended from Obi-Wan. (There are many convincing arguments to be made for this theory, and part of me is still holding out for this to be true…) BUT, we find out in The Last Jedi that Rey’s parents were nobodies. They were, as Kylo Ren says to her, nobodies who sold Rey off for drinking money. Even Rian Johnson confirms that Kylo isn’t lying when he says this to her—he does actually see this, and he is being honest with Rey in that moment.

While this wasn’t the revelation I (along with many other fans) was hoping for, I think it works really well, and I personally would not change it. First off, since I unabashedly ship Reylo, I like that Rey has no relation to the Skywalkers. Secondly, and most importantly, I like how the film played into the idea that Rey didn’t need to have any special lineage in order for her to be significant in this story. She wasn’t special because she was a Skywalker, or a Kenobi, or what have you—she was special because of who she was on her own. She didn’t need to be a descendant of important people in order to find her place. It plays right into the idea that the Force doesn’t belong to just the Jedi and/or Sith—which is exactly what Luke explains to Rey when he trains her.

The Force is something that binds us all together, and it’s something that belongs to all of us. I love the end scene where the stable boy Force-summons his broom into his hand. He, like Rey, isn’t anyone well-known. He’s not a Jedi—but he, like Rey, is able to tap into the Force. I love this last scene because it shows that what happened in The Last Jedi, and the Star Wars saga as a whole, goes beyond the characters we’ve come to know. There’s always more to the story. There’ll always be more people, more heroes—who may or may not come from unlikely places. A character doesn’t need to be a Skywalker, or a Kenobi, or even a Palpatine, in order to have a place in this story.

What I disliked…

Luke’s character arc (or at least, bits of it). So, I have a lot of mixed feelings about Luke’s character arc, and I’ve discussed this at length with fellow Star Wars fans. On one hand, Luke’s character arc isn’t completely uncharacteristic. While Luke did insist that there was still good in Darth Vader, and while he did believe Vader could be redeemed, Luke was also impulsive and susceptible to the dark side. There’s a scene in Return of the Jedi where Luke does let his anger and aggression consume him, and he fights with Vader and slices off Vader’s hand—exactly the same injury that Vader gave to Luke in the previous film. That’s what wakes him up; that’s what reminds him of who he really is and brings him back to the light side. I can buy that Luke did have a moment of weakness and a momentary error in judgment when it came to Ben Solo. I can even buy Luke’s disillusionment with the Jedi Order, and his reluctance to train Rey because of it. But what I really didn’t like was Luke’s role in The Last Jedi. The Force Awakens made it seem like Luke was the key to helping the Resistance, but Luke’s role in the Resistance was mainly buying the Resistance fighters more time by distracting Kylo Ren with his Force apparition. While I love that scene, and while Luke’s Force apparition and his battle with Kylo has significance in both the film and the overall story, I really wish Luke had done more. Even if Luke was reluctant to train Rey, I wish he still had, but with his own unique philosophy that he developed after realizing the error of the Jedi ways. Luke’s role in this film was quite passive. He doesn’t really do much to train Rey—in fact, Rey is the one who steals the ancient Jedi texts and leaves after waiting around for Luke to train her. While Luke’s final act was meant to signify hope for the Resistance, I wish we had seen more of why he had a change of heart, aside from Yoda’s pep talk. I wish we had seen more of a story with Luke. I feel like his arc was cut off at several points with scenes of Rose/Finn/Poe, and that made his story feel disjointed and incomplete. So, while Luke made a great sacrifice at the end that ultimately saved the Resistance, I would have really liked his story to feel more complete.

Spirituality vs. Religion. The way the film approached Jedi training and the Force reminded me of the differences between spirituality and religion. Religion is quite tradition-oriented, and there are rules and order and requirements—much like the Jedi Order in the first six films. Spirituality is quite the opposite. It’s less rigid, it’s less structured, and it focuses more on self-growth and transformation. It doesn’t require rules or training; it’s about transcending and being true to your inner self—very similar to how the Force was presented in The Last Jedi. I hate how the film played up the idea that the Force isn’t something that requires a great deal of formal training, and that the training and tradition are actually hindrances. We see the stable boy using the Force, and we’re often reminded about how Rey has a great deal of raw talent but is untrained. I hate when films play up the “raw talent” angle, as though it’s somehow better than hard work and formal training which are really just impediments and are “too traditional.” I hate the idea that you can have some kind of special skill and be able to master it with no training—that’s not true anywhere, including Star Wars. While the Force does belong to everyone, that doesn’t mean you don’t need to hone it in order to use it well. While I love the idea of the new films challenging the rigidity and tradition of the Jedi order, I don’t think it has to mean that the exact opposite is a better way. It’s all about balance, just like the films reiterate—so there should also be a balance between the Jedi traditions and the new ways of using the Force.

Finn and Rose scenes. I really liked Finn in The Force Awakens (even though every other line for him was “Rey!” or “Where’s Rey?”). In The Force Awakens, Finn had a significant role—if you cut Finn out of the film, the story wouldn’t be the same. In this film, Finn’s scenes with Rose felt almost like filler. Finn and Rose went on some rogue mission that ultimately didn’t need to happen and actually got in the way of Holdo’s plans for the Resistance. I wish Finn had a bigger role than that. I get that Rian Johnson was trying show that it pays to know how to listen to others (cough*POE*cough) and that your heroes aren’t always who they seem to be, and I appreciate that. But, for a character like Finn, who was quite significant in the previous film, I wanted his scenes to have more weight. I wanted to see more personal growth. In the previous film, he mainly joined the Resistance to escape from the First Order. I can see how this film tried to show that Finn is no longer running away and is learning to stand for something and fight—but I think the execution was lacking. That said, I think Finn’s scenes with Rose would have done really well in a standalone Rogue One type of movie, rather than squished into a saga film. I would have enjoyed them much more that way; in this film, I found myself waiting for those scenes to end so we could cut right back to the center storyline with Luke, Rey, and Kylo. It almost felt like the film tried to bite off more than it could chew—like it tried to show too many things, subvert too many things. It felt like there was too much going on and the story wasn’t tight enough. I get that second films in a trilogy are a really tall task to take on, and it’s hard to create a film that doesn’t quite begin and doesn’t quite end. Overall, Rian Johnson did a great job—but I think trimming down the Finn/Rose scenes, or making those scenes more relevant to the central plot, would have gone a long way in improving the pace of the film.

Questions I still have…

Why did Luke’s Force apparition cause him to die? Why did he have to die to begin with? I’ve discussed this question with fellow Star Wars fans as well, and it seems that the consensus is that his Force apparition required a great amount of exertion and is something that hasn’t been attempted by any Jedi, ever. I don’t love the idea of Luke’s death, but I think the film might have been trying to echo Yoda’s death in Return of the Jedi, where he tells Luke that his training is complete. What are your thoughts on this?

Where did Snoke come from? (I still want this question answered even if he’s dead.) I HATE that Rian Johnson just decided to pull a “fuck it” and kill Snoke, even though fans (including me) read theory after theory trying to figure out where Snoke might have come from. I hate that this film sort of killed or quashed a lot of loose ends the previous film teased—including Snoke. Rian, you do not get off the hook for this. I still want an explanation for who Snoke was and where the hell he came from.

Why is no one even mentioning Obi-Wan? I love Obi-Wan’s character in both the original trilogy and the prequels. He was a significant character, so the films are either saving the best for last or they’re pretending like he doesn’t exist. If it’s the latter, I will be fifty shades of pissed. I really hope Episode IX includes Obi-Wan a bit more in the film. I want to see the characters I love at least mentioned or having an appearance in the new films. It doesn’t work when new characters are just shoved down our throats without any reference to the older characters. STOP TRYING TO MAKE “NEW CHARACTERS” HAPPEN; IT’S NOT GOING TO HAPPEN. Just kidding; I do like the new characters a lot. But seriously, I want to see some kind of mention of Obi-Wan in the next film. He deserves that.

Final Thoughts

I know this film was pretty divisive, but you can’t deny that it was a memorable film. I mean, weeks after seeing it, I’m still talking about it and thinking about it. There were things I loved, and things I didn’t love—but it’s a film that makes me think. It made me ask questions and challenge ideas I had about the Star Wars universe. It’s not a perfect film (no film is—and Empire Strikes Back had a similarly mixed reception when it released), but it’s a film that gets people talking and thinking. The film was impactful, and for me, it is right up there with my favorites.