W.B. At the Movies: Black Panther


We finally caught the first big film of the year, Black Panther, a couple of weeks ago to see what the fuss is all about. It’s as much of a triumph as you’ve heard – or, more likely, you saw it long before Red and me, and now you’re reading to see if we agree.

If you thought it was an epic story, a great adventure, and a masterful achievement in world building, we’re on the same page. The nation of Wakanda with its miraculous technology, warrior women and peaceful ethic seems fully realized as it is introduced and explored.

The central conflict resonates through the ages, as Wakanda emerges from its long disguise as a third-world nation. One royal (and our hero) considers sharing that amazing technology with the world, while another royal (our somewhat sympathetic villain) sees a chance to use the fabulous Wakandan weapons to conquer other nations in revenge for the oppression they rained on its people for centuries, establishing Wakanda as the One True Superpower that will rule the world The Right Way.

The story is a good allegory for those who remember a USA that renamed its Department of War as the Department of Defense, to emphasize that the Leaders of the Free World would only use their fabulous weapons for defensive purposes, would never again launch a first strike of the most terrible weapons, and would even share their defensive shield technology with their adversaries to ensure all would feel safe. Conquer and occupy the world? “That is not our way.” Good guys only use violence as a last resort and always only to defend themselves, after all.

The film has far too many scenes of chaotic battle where the action is framed so tightly it’s virtually impossible to determine what exactly is happening, other than that a lot of people are fighting. But that’s pretty much my only complaint. The climax has the classic “Star Wars” style structure with three interconnected battles taking place simultaneously with everything at stake. When it’s all resolved, there’s the requisite amount of triumph, relief and tragedy.

It’s great world building, terrific storytelling, and thought-provoking while maintaining its function as adventure entertainment. (Tangent: It’s amazing how much blood and gore can be implied – with much slashing and stabbing action – without actually showing blood and gore. That is NOT a complaint, necessarily.)

This is a film of grand spectacle, big themes, big story – it’s no wonder it has been so acclaimed. Black Panther is as good and as important a film as everyone says. I do wish those who celebrate the film would go deeper than celebrating the color of the cast’s skin and the gender of its mightiest elite warriors, because what it has to say about violence and the uses of technology is so much more important.

I also look forward to the day when we can stop talking about “what a great comic-book movie this is” and simply recognize “what a great movie this is,” without the caveat. No doubt that day will come; I remember a time when I felt I had to make a case that stories from comic books or science fiction can be worth telling, as if there was some stigma to overcome. Now some of our best and most popular entertainment is from comic books and science fiction.