The Hippo


May 25, 2020








Black Panther (PG-13)

Black Panther (PG-13)
Film reviews by Amy Diaz

By Amy Diaz

Black Panther (PG-13)

T’Challa, the prince turned king and superhero introduced in Captain America: Civil War, gets his solo outing with Black Panther, a movie whose review herein will contain many instances of the word “awesome.”
And if you’re not seeing an “awesome,” it’s probably implied.
T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) returns to Wakanda, the mostly unknown-to-the-outside-world African nation of which he became king after the death of his father. (Remember? In Civil War? Sokovia Accords something something UN explosion not Bucky Barnes yada yada?) An official ceremony will secure T’Challa’s title and give him the powers of the Black Panther, the inherited position of Wakanda super-protector that comes with super strength given to him by a locally grown flower and, in his case, also some super cool tech designed by Shuri (Letitia Wright), his sister who I found myself thinking of as Princess Q (though, she sees your pen-gun or whatever, James Bond, and she raises you an entire super-suit concealed inside a sleek and stylish necklace). On the way home, he stops to pick up Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o), a Wakandan special agent currently on a secret mission to rescue a group of women in another African country. Since T’Challa’s general, Okoye (Danai Gurira), reminds him not to freeze up when he sees her (and then he, of course, does), we get that these two have history. 
T’Challa has the support of his fellow Wakandans and of elders such as his mother, Queen Mother Ramonda (Angela Bassett), and the head ceremonial priest type, Zuri (Forest Whitaker), but in a dream his father warns him that it will not be easy for him to be a good man and be king.
The first test of his leadership is Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis), an international criminal long sought by Wakanda. Decades earlier, he stole a small amount of vibranium (the secret-sauce metal that has powered Wakanda’s technological advances and, according to the internet, is also what Cap’s shield is made of) and in the process killed several Wakandans, including the parents of W’Kabi (Daniel Kaluuya), one of T’Challa’s close friends and military leaders. Wakandans have a tip about Klaue’s whereabouts and the sale of some vibranium and this is their chance to bring him back to Wakanda to stand trial. The mission is complicated when CIA Agent Ross (Martin Freeman) is spotted at the meetup — Ross knows T’Challa and getting Americans tangled up in Wakandan business increases the chance that the world will learn that Wakanda is not the “nation of farmers” it pretends to be. 
As both T’Challa and Ross pursue Klaue, they also run into Erik Stevens (Michael B. Jordan), a former American special ops agent who knows a lot about Wakanda and sports a ring very similar to the ring worn by T’Challa, a ring T’Challa’s grandfather gave to each of his sons.
At the core of nearly every superhero story — including many of the Marvel stories — is the way in which that hero deals with the “with great power comes great responsibility” ruling principle of superness. This has been most overt in Spider-Man movies, of course, but it is also a big part of the arcs of Thor, Iron Man and the Avengers as a group. (And, outside of Marvel, it is a part of movie Wonder Woman’s story as well.) What Black Panther does so excellently is to consider not just Black Panther’s “great responsibility” but the duties and responsibility of all the people in his orbit. Everybody here has to make choices, hard choices, that frequently had me thinking of NBC’s sitcom The Good Place and its repetition of “what do we owe each other” as the moral guidepost of that show’s central characters. Here, I feel like the movie frequently asks, what do all the people in Black Panther owe each other — the “each other” that is their family, the “each other” of their country and then the people of the world.
One question that nearly every character in Black Panther wrestles with is what does Wakanda owe for its good fortune? As early exposition tells us, Wakanda’s vibranium riches allowed it great technological advancement as well as peace, which Wakanda protected by essentially walling itself off from the world, even as around it Africa was robbed of treasure and people by colonizers. Is the country now strong enough to reach out and help the world, specifically help the people of Africa and of African descent all over the world? Can it do this without destroying its own way of life? And what does that help mean? Refuge? Carefully provided humanitarian aid? Military support for revolution?
The result is that everything here has weight and stakes that feel far greater than, say, whatever the stakes were in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. The movie also sets up a villain whose villainy is far more complex than your average “take over the world/ultimate power”-motivated villain (which actually is, sorta, this villain’s aim). The ultimate conflict is not between good and evil, per se; it’s between deliberation and vengeance, between “work for a better world” and “burn it all down.” 
Don’t worry, though, this isn’t a two-hour Chidi philosophy discussion. Black Panther is a smart, thoughtful movie but it’s also a total comic book blast. 
This movie is chock full of awesome characters you find yourself rooting for. Okoye is simply one of the most delightfully badass characters I have ever seen on film (not surprising since Gurira’s Michonne on The Walking Dead is pretty badass herself). She is an entire Themyscira of female strength in one eye-catching suit of armor who has a boyfriend she unironically calls “my love” without sounding weak. I can’t adequately describe how rare and cool that is — a woman in a movie getting to be strong and romantic, simultaneously. 
Nakia and Shuri are equally confident and clearheaded but each woman is allowed to portray a different kind of strong womanhood, which, again is shocking and wonderful. Women in movies still so frequently get maybe one or two ways to be — weak like this or strong like this. To see a movie with women who are unique in their personalities and abilities but all confident in the way they carry themselves and approach the world is so rare that it wasn’t until I saw it here that I realized it wasn’t something I saw that often.
While the women really shine in this movie, there is plenty of good work being done by the men, including Kaluuya and Jordan. Boseman’s T’Challa is a very solid modern superhero. He’s not a Nolan brooder (oy, thankfully) or an Iron Man-style jokester. He’s earnest and thoughtful without seeming naive. It’s a calmer variation on the Marvel hero character and allows for a more laid back approach to humor as well. Boseman is able to sell both the physicality of this kind of hero and the heaviness of the character’s sense of duty and justice and still be fun.
And, yes, as many reviewers and excited movie-goers have pointed out, it is awesome to see a cast made up mostly of black actors (especially in a genre movie) getting to show character range where race, though always a part of the story, is not anyone’s sole defining characteristic. 
The movie is also aesthetically beautiful — to look at (glorious colors and costumes) and to listen to (the score is just, I don’t know how else to describe this, fun). As with the better parts of the Thor movies, Black Panther creates a world for us to become invested in. Though I like the reality-tethered Spider-Man: Homecoming-style Marvel movies, I also like this more fantastical approach when it is done as well as it’s done here.  And, though it clocks in at more than two hours, the movie is nicely paced. 
Even in the past year of action movies, many of which have been more nuanced and thoughtful than the “serious films” that get all the award buzz, Black Panther stands out as a smart movie that is able to mix artistry, interesting core principles and serious, awesome fun. A 
Rated PG-13 for prolonged sequences of action violence and a brief rude gesture, according to the MPAA. Directed by Ryan Coogler and written by Ryan Coogler and Joe Robert Cole, Black Panther is two hours and 14 minutes long and distributed by Walt Disney Studios. 

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