A word of explanation – the site went unexpectedly quiet in mid-January until now. This was unplanned, life kind of threw me a curveball. I was laid low by a heart attack on January 18th that put me in hospital for a week, and I’ve been working on recovery and rehab ever since, armed with a barrage of tablets that turn my blood to a strange chemical soup and a titanium stent in my heart. (On the good side, this makes me feel like something out of a Marvel movie)
On Tuesday Feb 20th, I finally made it back to the multiplex, (oddly enough to watch a Marvel movie.) Now, I’m back writing. The recovery is coming along nicely. The quote I’ve chosen to introduce the review is pretty appropriate.
“I did not yield! And as you can see, I am not dead! The challenge
I remember the Black Panther making his debut. As I recall it was in The Fantastic Four #52, sometime in 1966, but I think I caught up to the character about a year later.
The mid to late sixties was a time I remember seeing a big change in comic books. Up to that point, Marvel and DC seemed to portray the populations of every American city, be they real or fictional, as entirely white. Their world view seemed to change with the civil rights unrest, and crowd scenes were drawn with a bit more inclusion and diversity.
I seem to remember Marvel being slightly quicker to broaden this scope than DC, who were always more corporate. At that time, Marvel were always the rebels, trying to push the boundaries and test new waters by seeing how far they could go. Kind of, if DC were The Beatles, Marvel were the Rolling Stones.
So it was that Stan Lee introduced the first black comic book superhero. Though I can’t remember how much of his background we knew in those first stories. I honestly can’t remember. Actually, I think they left the character ambiguous for a few issues. What I do remember, very well, is that the character almost tanked because although his debut had been planned, written and drawn, due to the delays in publishing, by the time the Panther appeared – so had the real life group calling itself Black Panther which made an impact in Oakland, after exchanging gunfire with the police after the fatal shooting of an unarmed man.
I remember him becoming one of the Avengers, but largely after that, what I saw came more from the Avengers animated series on DVD.
If you’ll pardon the pun, he pounced, fully formed onto the screen in Captain America: Civil War and quickly became one of my favourite characters in that movie. It seemed his origin was largely changed from what I’ve seen previously but was cleverly interwoven with the events of that milestone film.
Now comes the Panther’s first solo outing – and the impact it has made and its box office takings have been nothing short of remarkable. The mainstream media had jumped on the bandwagon and all manner of socio-political messages have been read into what is, in reality, a film based on a Marvel Comics superhero.
Frankly, the gushing and outpouring of ill informed hyperbole made me a little wary. It’s a well known fact that I love superhero movies, comics, the whole culture. Hell, it’s been a huge part of my life for over fifty years but hearing the mainstream spout that this is the most important film of the century, that it’s the first black superhero film (um…..Blade? Steel?) or a Washington Post op-ed piece titled “Why Wakanda matters” is a bit overwhelming, is it not?
So, having now seen the movie, is it really all that?
It’s a tough one to call. Much of the actual, traditional origin of the Panther has been changed, but I think it’s fair to say that it’s the least Marvel superhero feeling film in the Marvel Movie Universe. It’s more of the story of T’Challa (the Panther’s civilian identity) the prince of the fictional country of Wakanda in Central Africa and his struggle to keep his country and people from being exploited by the Western World. (I have to point out that the country is fictional, sadly – because there are people out there who believe it’s an actual place. )
Wakanda is fabulously wealthy and way ahead of any other country, technologically. They’re also very insular and secretive. With good reason. They have the world’s only Vibranium mine. Vibranium is the metal that Captain America’s shield is made of. It absorbs energy. The Black Panther costume contains a layer of it, which absorbs all energy and impacts it sustains and allows that energy to be redirected at the wearer’s will, making the suit an incredible weapon and its wearer pretty much indestructible.
The Vibranium mine is, to all intents and purposes limitless, and has been mined for a thousand years but they’ve still barely scratched the surface. But there are those who want to grab the Vibranium for their own nefarious purposes, such as the evil Klaue, who we last saw in Avengers: Age of Ultron, played with relish by Andy Serkis.
But it’s not a standard “this is the hero and this is the villain, now fight for truth and justice” film. It’s pretty multi-layered and nowhere near the simplistic narrative of good against evil. Killmonger, is another villain with a claim to the throne of Wakanda and seeks to seize his opportunity. Remember that all this happens pretty soon after T’Challa takes his place as rightful ruler in succession following the death of his father (in Captain America: Civil War).
Also in the cast is the returning Martin Freeman as a CIA agent Everett K. Ross again, last seen in Civil War (Begging the question where the hell are SHIELD?). Thing is, neither he nor his character really add anything of value to the film, and knowing Freeman is a British actor, his American accent and continual earnest, well meaning expression tend to grate over the film’s running time.
But none of this makes it a bad film, nor a slow film. There’s plenty to enjoy here among the internal political struggles of Wakanda – for those who enjoy spectacle and action, there’s a gruelling fight scene set on the rails of an underground train that owes more than it should to a similar set piece in Blade, there’s a truly awesome car chase in South Korea pitting SUVs against cars constructed of Vibranium and driven remotely from a control centre in Wakanda and there are Tolkienesque battle scenes involving armoured rhinos.
So, pretty much everything to satisfy everyone then. And, as we head for the glorious finale of Marvel’s joined up universe in Infinity War, a satisfying standalone film, with just enough nods to earlier entries to cosily include itself in the current Marvel Phase 3.
If you don’t believe me, wait until the end of the credits to see who pops up in the film’s second sting.
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