The Black Panther is Lean, but not Quite Mean

16 Feb

black_panther_posterBy Ed Sum
(The Vintage Tempest)

  • Spoiler Alert

Enough has been said in early reviews of why Marvel Studios’ Black Panther is great. It plays the race card right. No clear winners are defined because part of the narrative is about freedom from oppression. This detail is internalized in the conflicts between man vs man. Missing is the spiritual discourse which made me interested in this hero played by Chadwick Boseman when he was introduced in Captain America: Civil War.

I wanted more. The ‘creation myth’ which opens this film is only a tease. A meteorite crashed in Africa millions of years ago and the tribes living nearby discovered what it could do. They fought over control of it. One mighty warrior believed it was a gift from the gods. Very little exposition was added to explain the fact each tribe represented an animal faction. Also, the role of Bast and Sekhmet in the theology gets diminished. The former got a fleeting reference as a healer, and the latter, I saw come to life in N’Jadaka’s (Michael B. Jordan) purpose. He wanted to serve a greater good and fell into a bloodlust after gaining power. He sought to save his brethren through a secret war. A new arms race may well ensue if he was to continue in his rampage.

This film rings with a style which brings forth allusions of John Boorman’s Excalibur. The newly minted king has a challenger. N’Jadaka is much like Mordred. A new order is desired. At the same time, the climatic fight offers similar ferocity of Zack Snyder’s 300. The exotic is represented with the ethnic backdrop of various tribes united under one roof in the nation of Wakanda. Although this detail is nice and colourful to give this film texture, the purpose leans more on superficial than meaningful.

The story is worthy of Shakespeare. However, the Weird Sisters or some iteration of them are missing. If the caretakers of the grove are meant to be them, they are underutilized. While I get to see T’Challa’s Dreamtime visions when he talks to father, the elder hardly offers wise advice. When Cooger and Cole are trying to balance a tale to satisfy the comic book geek, they are missing a few cultural details which define the old African way of life. In what’s presented is a fusion of the time honoured traditions, like the ritual of combat to see if T’challa is worthy to be king, and new. The community is vested in the past but secretly, they have advanced technology to keep them safe.

Animism is not at the forefront to give explain why the black panther is highly regarded. To do so may well see him compared to Vixen from DC Comics. The spiritual angle could have been worked into the film to explain the syncretism of varying nations happily living together in Wakanda. At the same time, this reveal can show why Bast and Sekhmet were highly regarded over other divinities like Menhit (goddess of war).

Also glaring is a huge plot hole. If the Black Panther’s enhanced powers are obtained through consuming a flower and much of the grove is gone, then he is going to be another man wearing a super suit made of Vibranium. Although he’s a great warrior, it’s doubtful he can beat Thanos, which is the next film to come out under the Marvel Studios banner.

3½ Stars out of 5

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