This is not a review. I don’t think I watch enough movies nor do I know enough of the ins and outs of cinema to be able to analyse if a movie is any good or not. What I can do is tell you what the movie meant to me.
So wakanda movie is Black Panther, you ask? Get it? Try not to smile, now smile. There you go. Oh also, spoiler alert. This is going to be insanely in-depth.
The movie is strictly no nonsense and there are barely any scenes put there just for the sake of it. We all already saw what the Black Panther is capable of in Civil War and the entire history of Wakanda is explained in the first 30 seconds with sleek animations that flow like sand. Akin to Iron Man 3, this too opens with a flashback sequence and follows the ‘we create our own monsters’ parallel. Most of the movie falls into a black-blue-gold color palette and the visuals looks breathtaking on the big screen.
Starting with a fight sequence, that mostly establishes the story line as on-going, that this is what these people do normally on a regular basis, it begins with Black Panther, the super-warrior and ends at T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman), a normal guy who freezes on coming face to face with his ex-girlfriend, Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o), even though it was a rescue mission for her in the first place. He can drop off a moving jet and take down armed men with fluid feline karate but can’t think of anything to say when his ex pops up and in that moment he is all of us. I guess the movie essentially is the story of T’Challa identifying himself, coming to terms with being a king, and doing his own thing as opposed to what those who came before him did. He is often conflicted, between being a king and being a warrior, between chasing vengeance and seeking justice, between what he wants to do and what needs to be done. We saw this briefly towards the end of Civil War, where in spite of chasing after his father’s killer all through the movie just to kill him on sight, he ends up stopping Zemo from shooting himself. In this one too, we see him struggle to be the fair king, yet it doesn’t quite feel like he himself agrees with what he is doing. But in the end, he is sure. He chooses his own path. And it is the villain who brings about this assurance.
More than T’Challa or Killmonger (Michael B Jordan), it is the characterization of Wakanda itself that steals the limelight. The nation stands tall, proud and the technology lies far ahead of Stark’s holograms, surpassing even some of the alien tech we’ve been shown in Guardians of the Galaxy coming quite close to Asgardian levels. I can’t help but draw similarities between Shuri’s (Letitia Wright) ‘sand table’ and the healing table from ‘Thor : The dark world’ in terms of how they view and manipulate information. “It’s not magic, it’s technology.”, corrects Shuri as a startled Everett Ross (Martin Freeman) wonders how his bullet wound healed magically overnight and Jane Foster’s (Natalie Portman), “Does it transport molecular energy from one place to another? It’s a quantum field generator.” pops to mind. Wakanda shifts effortlessly between ancient and cutting-edge, back and forth throughout. They have invisible flying jets, but their exhausts have African symbols pulsing along ; the women fight with a spear, but the spear retracts into their fists at will and can stop a tank ; there is a sleek laboratory encrusted in the mouth of a mine with networks of levitating trains transporting vibranium reaching far beneath it, but there is a mural of colorful tribal art around the healing table. The harmony between all things old and new, artificial and natural bleeds into the lifestyles of the people too and can be seen explicitly in the sequence where different tribes fight for the throne. We are just introduced to Wakanda in all its glory with it’s invisibility cloak, the hyperloop trains that would make Elon Musk jump in glee and the fancy jets. The scene then moves to ceremonial chanting and a tribal drum section fills the background music as all the different tribes chant and dance in their own traditional way tapping their feet and thumping their spears on a river heading to a waterfall. The thump of the spears then sends a sonic wave underneath the waters which triggers a system that empties a section of the waterfall and the rhythm and the beats continue again. Even though the men still identify themselves as belonging to one of the five tribes from centuries ago, the ascension to the throne takes place in a rather democratic manner, with all tribes in agreement, and if they chose to object with a ritual combat, T’Challa fights only after he is striped off of his black panther powers. Its all pretty neat, the old and the new, nature and science – hand in hand. Perhaps this is how the world could’ve been. This is how it should’ve been. The entire nation is made of vibranium essentially and has so many bells and whistles and yet a dense forest thrives around it. While in the real world, we cleaned out the Amazon to make toilet paper. These guys hold technology that could match the Gods’ and yet they stick so strongly to their roots, they bow down to their fallen ancestors and take ceremonies and rituals very seriously while we split the atom and think ourselves Gods.
Not until we see Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkins) on screen do we even remember that this is all happening within the MCU. The movie is as disconnected from the MCU as possible, in terms of tone and the music (Ludwig Göransson), which fits considering how disconnected the world is from Wakanda. There is humor in there, of course, but they are not of the “cheeky one liners thrown mid-battle” variety. There is humor in the interactions between T’Challa and his sister Shuri, a sort of a friendly sibling banter, there is humor in Okoye’s (Danai Gurira) exasperation with the outside world’s ‘primitive’ ways and Ross’s reactions to Wakanda, being suddenly cast dead centre into a battle in a place he didn’t even know existed or possible. The humor fits, and is genuinely funny. There are no attempts to forcefully namedrop other characters in the MCU roster as well. Other than that one time when Shuri mentions about having ‘another’ white boy to fix on seeing a wounded Ross – previous one being the winter soldier (Sebastian Stan) -the movie pretty much focuses on its own world and characters.
With the MCU, you can always see that the first standalone movie of any hero has him fighting a stronger and evil version of himself. It was Iron Man versus Iron Monger, both with enhanced metal suits enclosing different people ; Hulk versus Abomination, Captain America versus Red Skull who were just two people reacting differently to the same serum and even in recent movies like Ant Man, it was Yellowjacket which had all the same powers as ant-man’s suit with added lasers. Black Panther and Killmonger share the same relationship as well. They have the same suits, Killmonger even defeats him in ritual combat and both are dealing with the loss of their fathers. The shot of T’Challa holding his dead father in tears in Civil War is pretty much exactly recreated in the shot of young Erik holding his dead father N’Jobu (Sterling K. Brown) shown in this movie.
Speaking of Erik and his dead father, the motive for the villain in this movie isn’t plain revenge. The kid doesn’t even cry when his father dies, and when questioned he says, with a cool demeanor, “Everybody dies. It’s just life around here.” Coming from a kid, the line is sad enough but coming from a black kid, the dialogue weighs down a lot more. As a kid he understood the ways people of color are oppressed around him and knowing that Wakanda exists, full of people like him doing nothing to help hit him hard. When he revolts, he revolts for every black person around the world, he doesn’t want the throne to lead a royal life, he claims the throne so that he gets the authority to use Wakanda’s resources to arm his fellow men around the world. T’Challa himself is often unable to justify staying in the shadows and not trying to help people outside Wakanda.
“If anyone found out what we truly are and what we possess, it could destroy the world. It is my duty to protect it.”
“We let the fear of our discovery stop us from what doing what is right.”
– T’Challa at two different points in the movie.
The problem however arises from how Killmonger chooses to help. He wishes for a power inversion and not equality. He wishes to arm oppressed people everywhere and take over what has been. And he burns down the garden of the heart-shaped herb, hinting at dictatorial undertones. Even though like all superhero movies, they are trying to ultimately “save the world”, the threat almost feels justified. The solution, almost unfair. Of course those oppressed and ridiculed for centuries would expect to take over power some day, to turn the tables around. Expecting them to be the bigger men and settle for equality is going to be the toughest bargain ever in history.
“I waited my entire life for this. The world’s going to start over, and we’re going to be on top! “
– Erik Killmonger
Talks of racism is sewn all over the movie, right till the very end and adds a new dimension to the existing dialogue. It shows how aware the Wakandans are of the problem and how badly Erik wishes to uproot it. “Don’t scare me like that, Colonizer!”, smirks Shuri as Ross wakes up in her lab. “I learned from my enemies. Beat them at their own game.”, says Killmonger, an ex U.S black ops soldier, regarding attacking nations during weaker times such as transition of power and overthrowing governments by crippling their resources and existing structures of authority. The dialogues at the very end perhaps are the most hard hitting and goes all the way back to the roots of slave trade.
T’Challa [to a dying Killmonger] : Maybe we can still heal you.
Killmonger: Why? So you can lock me up?
Killmonger: Nah, bury me in the ocean with my ancestors that jumped from the ships. Because they knew death was better than bondage.
The movie is also to be commended for its share of story arc to all the supporting characters be it Okoye, Shuri, Nakia and even Everett Ross. Even though the movie is titled Black Panther, it is quite evident that these characters can all very much hold their own without him, they have their own skills and they are indeed ‘supporting’ characters and are in no way dependent on or there simply to serve the black panther. In all three major fight sequences in the movie, the women are given just as much screen-time and badass moves as T’Challa himself. Even Everett Ross, a humble CIA agent (who’s perhaps the most relatable for us in the movie with him having no superpowers and being struck with awe at anything in Wakanda), gets his moments of bravery when he takes a bullet for Nakia and in the very end as he’s determined to finish the job even as the lab he sits is about to be blown into bits. The movie celebrates African culture on every front, in so much fine print. Be it the name cards of places that initially appear in Wakandan script and then transform to English, the costumes of each tribe and especially the music and the added album by Kendrick Lamar, this movie has been painstakingly developed by people passionate about Black culture and it shows. These are details that the average audience might not even notice but they are all still there.
In the end, the villain technically wins. I’m not even sure if its justified, calling him the villain. He does manage to make T’Challa have a change of heart and Wakanda comes out of the shadows, setting up its first International Outreach Program at the very spot Erik’s father was killed. Marvel has been claiming to have broken the ‘superhero’ genre’s many stereotypes since The Winter Soldier was released, which dipped into a political thriller vibes, Dr.Strange going completely mythical and Ant Man resembling a heist movie. However it is Black Panther that seems to have really gotten out of the superhero routine and really brought us something with heart.
“The wise builds bridges while the foolish builds barriers.”
– T’Challa addressing the United Nations.