Visiting and Revisiting the MCU – Black Panther
My daughter and I will be watching Marvel Cinematic Universe media in whatever order she feels like. Next up: 2018’s Black Panther.
Our Progress So Far
“Can we watch Black Panther next?” my daughter asked.
Why Black Panther Next?
Based on the t-shirts I see at her daycare and school, Black Panther is a top 5 Marvel character with kids today. He’s up there with Spider-Man, The Hulk, Iron Man, and Captain America. On top of that, my daughter loves cats. So when she saw Black Panther in the Disney+ cross sell after we finished Iron Man 2, she immediately asked to watch it.
The Black Panther That I Remember
I loved Black Panther.
I went into the movie with vague awareness of the character. As a young comic reader, I learned MCU history by reading What If? and The Infinity Gauntlet.
What If? in particular featured a large swath of Marvel characters, usually with a good sampling of their support cast, all introduced through exposition by The Watcher. Somehow, Black Panther didn’t show up much, if ever. Searching the What If? Wikipedia page, he’s not mentioned in any issue title. Which makes it especially funny that he and Killmonger play prominent roles in the What If..? animated series. When I Googled “What If Black Panther” the autofill suggested “…was white?” and I didn’t feel like going any further.
As for Infinity Gauntlet, Black Panther only appeared in one panel:
Black Panther appears as much in The Infinity Gauntlet as classic Marvel character Windsheer.
So even with virtually no exposure to the character, the movie shot to the top of my favourite MCU entries, with Killmonger and Klaw instantly becoming my favourite MCU villains.
Revisiting Black Panther
I was worried for a second there.
Rough (And Familiar) Start
After an intriguing flashback where we meet the father of the film’s villain, we cut to Black Panther making quips then jumping out of an aircraft. Having just watched Iron Man 2, with the exact same opening sequence, I worried I inflated the genius of this film in hindsight. The first fight scene, with T’Challa stuttering and freezing when he sees Nakia, doesn’t help. Somehow, Black Panther crammed a lot of common complaints about MCU films into the first act of a generally celebrated movie.
Wakanda To The Rescue
Fortunately, things pick up as soon as we get to Wakanda. The cinematography sells Wakanda as a paradise. I loved the combination of technology just outside of our reach and traditional African iconography. Then we spend a lot of time learning the Wakanda political structure and its priorities, as well as the members of the royal family. And it’s all amazing.
It’s shocking how many secondary character stand-out, all introduced in quick succession. Shuri is fun, brings youthful energy to the movie, personifies the technological side of Wakanda, and plays off her brother and king unlike anyone else.
Instead of ignoring the unfortunately named Man Ape, director and co-writer Ryan Coogler turned M’Baku into one of the most interesting characters in the film, brought to a whole new level by Winston Duke’s intimidating but charming portrayal.
We get the surprisingly entertaining fish out of water Everett K. Ross. Even if Martin Freeman is super likeable in every role, I can’t explain why I find this particular character more endearing than most.
Honestly, the tight pacing and plotting from the arrival in Wakanda on makes me think the studio mandated the plane jump scene.
Finally, I think film schools should make the museum scene mandatory viewing for all courses. It so perfectly establishes Kilmonger and Klaw’s characters, motives, similarities, and differences. Klaw letting a guard escape only to kill him came off first like he had a soft side, then more evil than we assumed, only to land on looking like a genius when he explained that it made them look worse at their job than they are. Similarly, Kilmonger taking the time to mess with the museum curator he’d already poisoned to make a political point helps balance his mean streak with the depth of his character.
Even with Klaw getting killed fairly early, I thought the subtext of that scene plays out in a tense and engaging way. I agree with the criticism that by this film we’d seen too many MCU mirror match final acts. Yes, it could have been an everyman soldier against enhanced royalty. That would have probably been better, or at least more original. To Black Panther’s credit, it justified the cliché, making Kilmonger’s transformation into Golden Jaguar interesting.
My Daughter’s Thoughts
My daughter has a habit of asking questions when we watch movies. Often, my only answer is “watch the movie, you’ll find out”. But sometimes, she needs motivations explained or reassurance that she’s following. Those questions, I like answering. Black Panther prompted those questions, and a lot of them.
Some of that conversation showed the depth of the chunk of MCU this movie explored. Things like going over the Wakanda royal family, and Wakanda’s international relations. Other conversations were heavier and more important. How the Europe and the West traditionally mistreated Africans, and how just because fashion is different, it doesn’t mean it’s weird.
All this in a beautiful, action-packed movie that she adored. With Wakanda Forever out now, I’m strongly considering taking her to her first MCU theatre experience. My only concern is that she won’t be able to ask me all of her questions in a theatre.
After Black Panther, we powered through the next three MCU releases, starting with Thor.