Reviews for the Easily Distracted

Reviews For The Easily Distracted:
Black Panther

Title: Black Panther

Describe This Movie Using One Simpsons Quote:

MARGE: Maybe we should talk to a financial planner.
HOMER: Financial panther, eh?
Brief Plot Synopsis: 60 percent of the time, he beats the bad guy every time.

Rating Using Random Objects Relevant To The Film:  4 D'Angelo Barksdales out of 5.

Tagline: "Hero. Legend. King."

Better Tagline: "Always bet on Black...Panther."

Not So Brief Plot Synopsis: The king is dead, long live the king. After the death of King T'Chaka, his son T'Challa (Chadwick Boseman) becomes ruler of Wakanda and also assumes the role of Black Panther, the ancestral protector of his country, with the assistance of sister Shuri (Letitia Wright), head bodyguard Okoye (Danai Gurira), and ex-lover/current spy Nakia (Lupita Nyong'o). And he has a lot of protecting to do, thanks to the continued vexations of arms dealer/vibranium thief Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis) plus a new threat from Erik "Killmonger" Stevens (Michael B. Jordan), an ex-soldier with a bone to pick with the royal family.

"Critical" Analysis:
Just to get it out there: Black Panther would be a superior entry in the comic book movie pantheon regardless of the expectations surrounding it. It boasts some of the most striking and imaginative visuals of any superhero movie to date while keeping the conflict admirably grounded and avoiding the third act CGI Big Bad misstep that's befallen even the better genre efforts (Wonder Woman).

The character's relatively unassuming comic book history, while unfortunately limiting the title's mainstream popularity, serves it well here. Aside from some tantalizing glimpses in Captain America: Civil War, Wakanda and its inhabitants are as mysterious to moviegoers as they are to the fictional denizens of the MCU. Freed of perceived continuity baggage, writer/director Ryan Coogler (Creed) and his co-scripter Joe Robert Cole are working with a canvas largely unspoiled by popular expectatons.

And they've done a hell of a job painting it. Black Panther sets itself apart from its predecessors almost immediately by creating a new mythology more robust than the diet Norse of Thor or ... whatever the hell's going on in Doctor Strange, establishing the country's (and the Panther's) heroic traditions even as it quickly sets about subverting them, with a flashback scene that raises some very pointed questions about Wakanda's role in the world and its respnsibities to the downtrodden.

The committment to helping others is integral to any superhero, whatever their motivations; Peter Parker fights crime because his inaction led to his uncle's murder, Tony Stark put on the suit (in part) to combat his company's arms proliferation, while Captain America fights for his vision of the American ideal. Whether their sphere of duty is localized (Spidey) or global (Iron Man), their reaction to threats is usually in proportion to the threat itself.

But the idea that one can use his powers to combat centuries of injustice is unique to Black Panther, and to be fair, it isn't even on T'Challa's mind when he first assumes the throne. He takes on the mantle of Black Panther because it's his birthright, and it isn't until his eyes are opened by Killmonger (ugh, that name), best friend W'Kabi (Daniel Kaluuya), and Nakia to the potential of Wakandan technology that he begins to consider the broader possibilities.

Like Magneto's defense of mutants, Killmonger's desire to use vibranium tech to help "our people" fight back against oppression comes from an honest desire to address the injustices of the past (his message resonates more because, in spite of what Jeff Sessions would have you believe, black people actually exist). His fury at Wakanda's continued sitting on the sidelines while black leaders are gunned down is palpable and utterly justified, making him one of the most formidable and empathetic "villains" in the MCU.

Black Panther still cleaves pretty closely to the Disney superhero movie formula, but the stunning aesthetic, modern sensibilities, and incorporation of contemporary themes and concerns (T'Challa explicitly dismisses the use of walls/barriers between humanity) mean its familiarity never overwhelms its relevance. Wright and Boseman have wonderful sibling chemistry, Gurira is fierce and heartbreakingly protective of the throne, while Serkis is the most animated he's ever been in a live-action role (and check out his mixtape!). Coogler, who brings along a number of folks who have worked with him ever since Fruitvale Station, has created an epic story of loyalty and destiny that somehow also feels intimate.

Sure, we've seen black superhero films before (even if half of those are Blade movies), but not one with an overwhelmingly POC cast that celebrates an African culture without treating it like a novelty. And speaking as someone whose race and gender have not just been represented, but at the forefront of almost every superhero, sci-fi, and fantasy movie his entire life, it's about goddamn time. Kudos to Coogler, Cole, Boseman, Nyong'o, Jordan, Rachel Morrison, Hannah Beachler, and everyone else involved for the finished product. Black Panther is a triumph, and it's this middle-aged, white reviewer's sincere wish that its success leads to many more stories to come.
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Peter Vonder Haar writes movie reviews for the Houston Press and the occasional book. The first three novels in the "Clarke & Clarke Mysteries" - Lucky Town, Point Blank, and Empty Sky - are out now.
Contact: Pete Vonder Haar