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"Black Panther" Review

Marvel continues its just-can't lose streak to 18-0 (I don't count the weaker entries like The Incredible Hulk or the first two Thor movies as losses; just not home runs) with Black Panther, a quite good movie which unfortunately has been hijacked by SJWs seeking to politicize everything.

Introduced in Captain America: Civil War, Chadwick Boseman continues his journey as T'Challa, who became King of the fictional African nation of Wakanda after his father, T'Chaka, was assassinated, also inheriting the mantle of the Black Panther, protector of the nation, clad in a vibranium - the mythical metal that makes Captain America's shield - cat suit. As explained in a prologue reminiscent of the storybook expository scene in Wonder Woman, a vibranium meteor landed on Africa and the metal's properties fueled Wankanda's rise as a technologically-advanced Utopia, which they have hidden from the outside worth with a shielding dome, cut off from the outside world.

The debate of Wakanda's place in the world and how it could help poorer African nations is forced when an American ex-SEAL, Erik Killmonger (a malevolent Michael B. Jordan), arrives and challenges T'Challa's claim to the throne. He wants to use Wakanda's tech and weapons to basically topple all the nations he feels are holding the African diaspora down and if you think that sounds a little (OK, a LOT) like a race war, I'm touching my nose. But we'll deal with the politics in a moment.

What's remarkable about Black Panther is how little like a Marvel Cinematic Universe movie it is. Other than Martin Freeman's CIA agent character also introduced in Civil War and Andy Serkis' Ulysses Klaue first/last seen in Avengers: Age of Ultron getting his arm cut off (the replacement is literally a blast, along with Serkis' no-CGI-covering-him performance), there are no hints of the Avengers, no drop-bys from Tony Stark. Instead it feels like a Shakespearean family tragedy with the ancient, deeply African tribalism and customs rubbing against the questions of how should a 22nd Century superpower masquerading as a poor 19th Century agrarian land interact with the 21st Century world.

With the usually overqualified casting (two Oscar winners, two Oscar nominees, and everyone else is excellent) that typifies Marvel's serious approach to funny book flicks, there is a weight to Black Panther that seems more like Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight movies than the recent laugh-a-minute Thor Ragnarok. Not that there aren't laughs or it's grimdark like the DC Murderverse slogs, but it's got a lot on it's mind, though more is implied than explicated; it really would've benefited from a tad more breathing room to debate its concept instead of just getting to the final climatic boss battles.

It's not a flawless masterpiece, however. Some of the CGI is surprising subpar and rubbery physics make fights look more like videogames or the Sam Raimi Spider-Man movies. The performance are so solid (though Jordan's street-level American jars compared to the mellifluous African patois of the others) that you don't realize until later we could've stood for more details, especially about Lupita Nyong'o's spy life and Danai Gurira's badass general. Letitia Wright's Shuri, T'Challa's super-brainiac little sister, feels too young for her precociousness - and are there no other scientists or doctors working with her? - and she gets a couple of ignorant racist comments stuffed in her mouth.

Which leads to the part we really shouldn't have to discuss, the inevitable co-option and politicization of yet another piece of entertainment by forces seeking to keep resentment, grievance, division and polarization whipped up in order to advance their agendas. Just a couple months after Star Wars: The Last Jedi was buried in vapid "think pieces" bashing the male characters, screeching "girl power" and proclaiming "diversity" (read: "less white men, yay!"), we're now assaulted by Time magazine covers and a tsunami of commentary about how landmark it is for a black-led superhero movie is in the Era of Trump as if the Blade movies didn't happen 20 years ago and Will Smith wasn't the Biggest Movie Star In The World before passing his crown to Dwayne Johnson.

It's depressing to see a narrative of "black people are finally getting something in AmeriKKKa" being fomented when if that was the case, no one would be making a reportedly $200M budget film with a 98% black cast, black writers, designers and director, female cinematographer (who's white, but she's a lesbian, so her victim class card is punched, twice) which is on track to make over $200M in its opening weekend. Focusing on the skin color, genitalia and sexual behavior of the filmmakers is insulting, not empowering. Unless they're studying the IMDB, audiences doesn't know or care whether the crew behind the camera are black, white, straight, gay, male, female or a left-handed Amish panda with a limp, just whether the movie is good or bad. That the faces are different is just a footnote to anyone not obsessed with scorekeeping.

Black Panther's existence and success moots the premise of those seeking division over what should be another opportunity for ALL people to commune with escapist entertainment which also has thematic gravitas. What's ultimately ironic about the grievance mongers who share Killmonger's rage is that they seem to miss the fact he's the villain and his internalizing of victimhood is what leads to his inevitable downfall. It's T'Challa's pragmatic peace-seeking that is considered the ideal which leads to victory and peace.

So try and tune out the noise and just enjoy another excellent offering from Marvel. As an added bonus, we're not going to have to wait 2-3 years for more of the Wakanda folks; they're going to be back in Avengers: Infinity War in just three months. Can't wait.

Score: 8.75/10. Catch a matinee.


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