While rewatching Black Panther (2018) recently, I realized that while the events of this film are going on, so are those of Spider-Man: Homecoming and Doctor Strange. While this might seem innocuous, if you have seen these other movies you know that the events in them have the potential to threaten the entire world. Black Panther is no different in this regard. I find this constant threat to Earth’s population to be a little exhausting. Also, because these are all a part of the MCU, it is a strange that there does not seem to be any reference to the things going on elsewhere in the world. Maybe there are some Easter eggs that I missed?
Of course, Black Panther begins shortly after the events of another potential global threatening film, Captain America: Civil War. Technically it begins much earlier where we find out that King T’Chaka’s (Atandwa Kani) brother, N’Jobu (Sterling K. Brown), had been plotting to use Wakandan technology to begin addressing the racial problems of the world. The king ends up killing his brother to protect his country’s secrets, but leaves behind his nephew. That nephew turns out to be Erik Stevens/Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan), and he seeks to avenge the death of his father, claim the throne of Wakanda, and carry out his father’s mission of arming oppressed African peoples. Meanwhile, T’Challa/Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) is settling into being the new king of Wakanda, replacing his father T’Chaka who had been killed in Captain America: Civil War. Shortly after ascending the throne, they learn that a long-time nemesis of Wakanda, Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis), has resurfaced and is yet again trying to steal their precious vibranium (apparently the strongest metal on Earth, according to the MCU). Seeing an opportunity to address a decades old wrong, T’Challa sets off for South Korea to try and bring Klaue back to Wakanda to face justice, but fails to do so. Instead, Killmonger shows up on the Wakanda border with Klaue’s corpse. He uses the body of a Wakandan enemy to talk his way into the throne room and challenge T’Challa for his birthright. In the subsequent fight, Killmonger manages to throw T’Challa off the edge of a waterfall and thus becomes the new king. Because Marvel, T’Challa survives the fall and comes back to reclaim the crown and stop Killmonger from exporting Wakandan technology to topple governments around the world.
Black Panther is not a bad movie. It is just not a very good one, despite the accolades accorded it. The first thing I did not understand was the line of succession. Supposedly, whoever sits on the throne of Wakanda adopts the mantle of the Black Panther. But I guess dad got too old, and so the powers of the Black Panther were given to T’Challa even though he was not yet king? It was a little confusing. There is also vibranium itself. It can apparently do anything from making things levitate to curing shattered vertebrae. How does all this work? I do not know. Marvel. However, my biggest complaint with the film was how the plot was handled. As told, it is all very Shakespearean in its dynastic drama. Listen, nothing against the Bard of Avon, but we seem to have been telling some version of his stories for the last 400 years. Can we please find a different story? Had it been me, I would have had Killmonger work behind the scenes to undermine T’Challa’s rule. After all, the movie took a lot of time explaining that is the kind of thing Killmonger had been trained to do. Instead, we are supposed to buy (because the rest of Wakanda does, for some reason) this stranger’s story about his father because he has a ring and a tattoo. There is also the impossibility of surviving the drop from a very tall waterfall after being cut and stabbed in the stomach. Did I mention that T’Challa had the power of the Black Panther taken away before this happened? So if you think you, regular Joe or Josephine reading this review, think you could live through such physical trauma, then I guess this is the plot twist for you. Anyway, I find the plot to be somewhat uninteresting.
What I do find interesting about Black Panther is the concept of tradition versus change. As a Catholic, tradition is important. I love the celebrations that my Faith has participated in for over a millennium. Wakanda is a place steeped in cultural practices that go back centuries, the biggest of which is the fact that they remain closed off from the world. One of the ongoing debates throughout the film is whether or not Wakanda should use its technology and resources to help other countries and peoples. As mentioned above, Killmonger seeks to use these things for conquest. Others, like Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o), T’Challa’s erstwhile girlfriend, want to see Wakanda share its gifts to promote peace and welfare. Either way, this involves change. Now, you may look at Catholicism as slow to adapt, and that is largely a fair assessment. But adapt it can, and has in recent years, without corrupting the Faith that it has clung to for so many years. That is a lesson that can be gleaned from this film.
Ultimately, Black Panther is okay. But it is definitely worthy of the PG-13 rating due to the surprising amount of violence and gun-play. Killmonger coldly murders his criminal associates because somehow that will help him get to Wakanda? Oh, and there is also the scene where Shuri (Lititia Wright) runs over somebody while remotely driving a car. Though she has a moment of regret over her accidental vehicular homicide, T’Challa forcefully tells her not worry about it. Oh well! So if you must see this one, make sure the kids are in bed.