As the film critiquing tumblers in my brain jumbled about during a viewing of Ryan Coogler's "Black Panther," one heck of an astute action-drama courtesy of Marvel Studios, I contemplated the complexities regarding one's point of view. Granted, this white, would-be silk stocking liberal was gratified by the racial and political wish fulfillment represented by the semi-secret, technologically advanced African kingdom of Wakanda where T'Challa, aka Black Panther, has just been elevated to the throne. But what remains of the kid in me took it a bit further.
I thought about heroes and what they meant to us in that portion of growing up that reveled in playing make believe. OK, so there weren't many specifically Jewish idols with whom I could identify, unless you counted guys like Jonas Salk and Albert Einstein. Sure enough that was great, but I was more concerned with six-gun totin' hombres — those good guys whose morality, demeanor and ethos lent themselves to boyhood emulation. I therefore decided that Jimmy Stewart, Henry Fonda and John Wayne were Jewish enough.
Thus it occurred that this black hero, superbly realized by Chadwick Boseman, was a long time coming. Indeed, the African-American sidekick has enjoyed regular, cliché status in a Gunga Din sort of way, but it was not until the albeit controversial Blaxploitation films of the early 1970s that the lead adventure figure was a person of color. While T'Challa had existed in comic book form since 1966, the big screen emergence marks the crossing of yet another color line. But more important to my idealism than the sociohistorical watershed is what it might mean to the kids.
If "Black Panther" is the morally uplifting enchantment for an 11-year-old boy or girl that I hope it is, that's great. And, if it is an ethical counterweight to the recently revived bigotry that had been waiting for the rock to be lifted from it, that's good, too. So, now that we've established that there are real-life forces such as filmmakers, just as hell-bent as our pantheon of fictional superheroes to assuring égalité and fraternity and making the world safe for democracy through higher understanding, we might want to discuss "Black Panther's" entertainment value.
Wonderfully imaginative sets depicting the magic that is Wakanda, an advanced civilization that protects its scientific and natural resource secrets by posing as a Third World country, dramatically enhance the cultural dream at the core of the film's soul. Psst ... Wakanda is rich in vibranium, a metal of extraordinary properties, not the least of which is the source of Black Panther's superpowers. But y'know, wherever there's a secret there's a leaker. Hence, it only figures that bad guys of every stripe are trying to get hold of the stuff for vile fun and profit.
In the early running for "Best Movie Villain You Love to Hate in 2018" is Andy Serkis' Ulysses Klaue, a mercenary of uncompromising deplorability who, despite the untold wealth he's doubtlessly accumulated from his contemptable exploits, doesn't seem to visit the dentist.
But he's easy to figure; he's just no good. Much more complicated is T'Challa's other adversary and long lost cousin, Erik Killmonger, effectively played by Michael B. Jordan. His very existence and antipathy is integral to the storyline.
A former U.S. black-ops soldier, Killmonger, who believes his rightful place in the Wakandan hierarchy was usurped, has his own ideas of how Wakanda's great potential might be realized.
He is part and parcel of what is essentially a political primer for Tyler and Brittney, a mirror of the state of affairs outside the movie theater. You'll recognize the dichotomy that's older than the Sumerians, its roots perhaps reaching as far back as the idea of Cain and Abel. T'Challa is the visionary, the constitutional idealist, while his angry cousin aspires to the blood and soil stuff.
Added to the Machiavellian manipulations that ensue, expect plenty of computer aided battle scenes with lots of hand-to-hand combat, but notably differentiated from the usual cinema tussling in that Wakanda's Dora Milaje plays a strategic role. Led by General Okoye (Danai Gurira), this all-women special forces regiment strikes a blow for female empowerment. Other examples of feminist positivism are contributed by Lupita Nyong'o as Nakia, T'Challa's independent minded heartthrob, and Letitia Wright as Shuri, his science genius sister.
Doing justice to the original pulp visuals that have spun fantasy for generations of comic book enthusiasts, the beauteous landscape imagined here is an exciting achievement in faux photography. Interspersing fitting symbolism, the combination of artist's brush and computer sorcery paints a future world with travelogue-like realism. Harking back to the mission first undertaken by our pen and ink world savers in the 1930s, when young minds needed some hope in the face of fascist saber-rattling, "Black Panther" heroically takes its turn answering the call.
"Black Panther," rated PG-13, is a Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures release directed by Ryan Coogler and stars Chadwick Boseman, Lupita Nyong'o and Michael B. Jordan. Running time: 134 minutes
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