More on Black Panther

One of my favorite YouTube critics, Maulr, absolutely tore into ‘Black Panther.’ After watching his video, I think I still liked the movie better than he did, but…yeah, it’s really not a well-put together film at all.

Something he brings up repeatedly is that there really is nothing binding T’Challa to the Black Panther: it’s all a matter of who has the special juice and the suit, both of which Wakanda has an apparently unlimited supply of. Why on Earth wouldn’t they mass-produce an army, or even an elite force of Black Panthers, which would effectively make Wakanda invulnerable to attack? Heck, they literally have spare Black Panther suits lying around the lab, and they’re apparently so easy to make that his sister makes two just so that he can have style options: why wouldn’t the other characters put one on toward the end the film? Or, to take the other side of the equation, why doesn’t Wakanda give their elite guards the performance enhancing juice, especially when they go off on dangerous missions?

Also, we know from the Infinity War trailer that Wakanda will be invaded by Thanos: will they start passing out Black Panther suits then? Because what possible reason could they have for not doing so? As of this film they have at least three functional suits, and the survival of the world is at stake: give one to Captain America for God’s sake!

The frustrating thing is that this would be so easy to fix: just make it so that the physical powers are not the result of a fruit, but are inborn to the royal family. That would at once give us a reason why only T’Challa could be the Black Panther and put their whole society on a more reasonable basis (as it is, though I like the idea, it doesn’t make sense for the most advance nation on Earth to choose kings by combat, but if it’s limited to the royal family – only those with the panther powers – it would be more understandable). It would have greater symbolic power (the royal family being the ones with the power to protect their people) and make both T’Challa and Killmonger more unique figures and make their rivalry matter more. Likewise you could make the panther suit an ancient artifact of which the knowledge of how to make it has been lost, which would solve the question of mass-producing it and make the suit itself matter more (as it is, it’s as if Asgard could churn out Mjolnir’s on an assembly line, but didn’t for some reason). Make Vibranium more limited, or balance it with other forms of unobtanium to explain their sci-fi tech (as it is, the fact that Vibranium does literally everything is just silly, especially since apparently stone-aged tribes were able to both mine it and figure out how it works. This implies the writers think that the mere presence of a resource is what determines the progress of a culture, which of course is why the Arab world discovered oil refining and internal combustion centuries before anyone else). If there’s only one suit, that could also make the final battle more dramatic with T’Challa having to fight Killmonger when Killmonger has the suit and he doesn’t. That would not only stack the odds even further, but would also reassure us that, yes, this thing has some form of weakness.

Because that’s a problem I had that Maulr only alludes to: Black Panther is too darn powerful for the threat level he deals with. He’s going after arms dealers and mercenaries, and he has both superhuman powers and a suit that makes him completely invulnerable: it’s too much and it makes the action scenes kind of boring because the bad guys don’t stand a chance.

Now, when Iron Man drops into the Afghan village and starts punting terrorists around, he outclasses the bad guys too. But one, he’s still a single man dropping into a warzone, not going after petty criminals, two, we’ve already seen him at the mercy of these men, so there’s a catharsis factor, and three, we see in that scene that things like tanks and jets can at least damage him, even if not a whole lot. We don’t doubt he’s going to win, but we can see where he conceivably could lose. Black Panther has superpowers and an indestructible suit and ultra-advanced technology and a back-up force of super-tech armed amazons driving an indestructible car. The overall effect is like the Avengers going up against the Vulture: there is literally no conceivable scenario where he loses. I actually found myself rooting for the bad guys during the Seoul chase because they were so ridiculously outclassed it was annoying.

Also, the backstory of the villain makes absolutely no sense: why would the uncle try to kill a man when the king was standing right in front of him in his Black Panther suit? Why would the king kill him, when taking the gun from him would be child’s play for him? Why would they be afraid of telling Wakanda what happened; that the king found one of their agents had betrayed them and killed him when he tried to murder a third party? Why would they leave the kid behind? Why would they leave the body behind? As Maulr points out, the cover-up would raise more questions and spark more unrest even without being discovered than simply telling the truth would.

And again, the thing that kills me is that it would have been a stronger story if they had gone that route: Killmonger grows up in Wakanda, knows T’Challa, pretends to be going along with it all but secretly seethes with anger against the royal family, then when T’Challa ascends the throne Killmonger unexpectedly challenges and beats him, forcing T’Challa to try to figure out a way to take back the throne, maybe undergoing further training, etc. Meanwhile Killmonger is secretly manipulating events to convince the Wakandan people that they are under attack and need to go to war with the rest of the world (rather than just arbitrarily ordering them to start killing women and children – which he literally does in the film as it stands). That would have been a better and more streamlined story, would have made the premise more acceptable, and would have provided the means for more organic exposition and exploration of the world. Both Killmonger and T’Challa would have been stronger characters and had a stronger connection. As a bonus, you could have made Klaue more integral to the story by having him work with Killmonger to arrange the false flag attacks.

It is depressing to me that this entire scenario took me about ten minutes of consideration to come up with, yet the ultra-budgeted, Disney-backed tent-pole film came up with a jumbled mess that only works at all because it’s held up by the actors and the visuals.

So…yeah, my opinion of the film is sinking the more I think about it. I still think it’s okay; it’s enjoyable, the visuals are mostly great, and of course Michael B. Jordan is fantastic (his performance is really the entire reason his character comes across as complex and sympathetic, because, strictly for what he does, he really isn’t. On paper he’s just an angry psychopath looking to start a world-wide race war, but Jordan seems to give him actual depth. This film could not work to the extent it does without him), but the story is contrived and weak, most of the characters aren’t very interesting, and the set up is really stupid in ways it didn’t have to be.

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