Monday, February 19, 2018

Black Panther (Spoilers)

We open right away with some “Daddy, tell me our origin story” exposition, which is fine. We’re well into our second decade of superhero movies as their own genre and we know the template by now. I’m fine with a Doomed Planet/Desperate Scientist/Last Hope/Kindly Couple expository infodump at the beginning of any such movie from now until the end of time.

I liked the prologue in 1992 Los Angeles quite a bit. Superhero movies tend to be loud and on-the-nose at their worst, but when the warriors arrive and N'Jobu says to open the door for the “Grace Jones” women because “they won’t knock again”, it was a nice understated declaration of who these women are.

T’Chaka was in a situation with no good options. He probably didn’t make the best choice, but whether you complete the sentence that starts with, “Hey kid, we killed your father and” with

“we’re leaving you here”
“we’re taking you away from everything you’ve ever known and you’re going to be raised by your father’s murderer.”

He’s certainly going to grow up resenting you. It’s like a no-win choice from a Telltale game.

 Nakia: Lupita Nyong'o’s Nakia didn’t have a whole lot to do and she wasn’t strictly necessary to the plot, but I did like how she responded in her introduction. When T’Challa is retrieving her from the Boko Haram convoy and he tells her that he wants her back for the coronation, an entire world of emotions flows across her face. Then she replies that she will come back.  There is a maturity there. This is her duty and she will discharge it faithfully with none of the oppositional defiant disorder that plagues super-hero movies.

Shuri: Letitia Wright was the best part of the movie as T’Challa’s sister Shuri. We totally need a sequel with the same cast but focus on her. I had guessed that she was in her early twenties, but the character is supposed to be sixteen, which is a pretty large gap between the two siblings.  She was a fun character to watch and the fact that she’s an almost unique role-model for African-American girls is almost incidental.

M’Baka was an interesting character. I liked him in the beginning as a bit of a devil’s advocate. I believe that authority should be questioned and M’Baka serves this role when he challenges T’Challa. My read was that he didn’t necessarily want to be king himself, but he wanted to make sure that T’Challa was the best-qualified person for the job. He didn’t want to rubber stamp the coronation.

(Also, during that fight I really loved it when T’Challa’s mom shouted, “Show him who you are!” to inspire her son. I appreciate the kind of quiet confidence.)

I also appreciated his question when T’Challa’s mom asks him to avenge her son’s murder later on in the movie and when he’s assured that the odds were fair, replies with something like, “Sounds like it was more a defeat than a murder.”

(Apparently, the character also goes by “Man-Ape” in the comics. They didn’t use that for the movie because it’s obviously tremendously super-racist.)

If you’ll excuse the digression for a moment, when I was watching Broadchurch with Jen she thought that the Scottish detective really looked like David Tennant, but assumed that he wasn’t, because I surely would have said something if he was. But all through the first episode, until she saw his name in the end credits, she assumed he was another actor who bore a startling resemblance and she was continuously distracted by that.  (In my defense, what was I going to say? “Hey, it’s David Tennant!”?)

I finally got to experience what it’s like being on the other side of the question. Every time W'Kabi was on screen I was asking myself, “Is  that Chris from Get Out or just somebody who looks like him?” (Spoilers: It is Daniel Kaluuya who played Chris, so point for Josh)

I think he was one of the few weak points in the narrative. Ulysses Klaw killed his parents and he makes T’Challa promise to kill him or bring him in for trial. Klaw is captured, but escapes and W'Kabi is so angry with T’Challa that he is instrumental in the coup that overthrows him. But cut the dude some slack. I’m not completely sure of the time frame, but he’s been king for less than a week, possibly for as little as a day. T’Challa has shown the intent to capture Klaw; he just hasn’t managed to do it yet in the extremely brief span of time that has elapsed.

Speaking of Klaw. Or Klaue, if you must. He was entertaining for the brief time he got. Manic, but not  “This is one doodle that can't be un-did, Homeskillet” level of obnoxious quirkiness. I was expecting to be annoyed by Martin Freeman, but I did like their exchange in the casino when Klaue offers a link to his mixtape and Martin’s Agent Ross deadpans, “Please don’t make me listen to your music.”

Roth must be the worst intelligence operative in the world, because he admits that he worked to cover up T’Challa’s involvement in Civil War, but never seemed to wonder where the Black Panther Iron Man level super-suit came from.  I can understand his willingness to help cover it up as part of some quid pro quo, but he never even seemed to ask the questions that would lead him to wonder why the leader of an apparently impoverished country had such a tool.

Michael B. Jordan is always great in everything he does. He continues the Chris Evans route of
going from Johnny Storm to someone else in the Marvel Universe.  His plot seemed to hinge on a number of unlikely events all coming to pass exactly as planned(meeting W'Kabi perhaps the only person who is sympathetic and in a position to help, being given a forum to plead his case and issue his challenge, T’Challa accepting the challenge and losing it) , which isn’t unusual for a super-hero movie, but I feel that Black Panther could have done better in this regard, since it was a cut above in almost every respect.

Perhaps I missed something, but are people allowed to challenge the king whenever they feel like it? I figured it was a “speak now or forever hold your peace” type deal and he wasn’t there. Sorry, you missed open enrollment in the regicide Olympics. Try again next year

Maybe he got special dispensation because he was of royal blood? It seems like it’s a pretty dumb system of government if anyone can challenge the king at any time.

Those are trivial complaints, though. He was a great villain with an understandable goal. Jordan oozes charisma and he owns this role. A common criticism of Marvel’s movie villains is that they come across as flat in their motivations, but both Killmonger and his father had goals and values that would be laudable under other circumstances.

I loved the world building that went into the movie. I don’t have the background to appreciate it beyond an extremely superficial level, but I love the thought that went into the choices for the clothing and languages and customs of the tribes.

I’ll end with a comment on representation. I’m a straight middle-class cis-gendered white American male. To a first order approximation, everyone I grew up watching on TV looked like me.  I’m sure the movie-makers faced pressure to make the movie less Afro-centric and I’m glad they stuck to their vision, because it is those elements that make this movie as enduring as I know it will be.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Today I learned about hats

I had always heard that JFK had destroyed the hat industry by not wearing a hat at his inauguration. It's something I had heard many times from many sources and never thought to check, but I learned from the Omnibus podcast (and confirmed on Snopes) that this was not true. He wore a top hat.