Hey there true believers! The snow is melting but the yard here at the home office in Cobourg, Ontario is still frozen and I’m at my desk which means its time for Heroes and Villains!
This week I’m pulling my nose out of the books and doing what it seems like everyone else is doing and heading to the movies to see Black Panther!
With so much being said about this movie and what it means as a game changer for representation in both super hero films and pop culture, I wanted to look at it from the angle of where its two central characters, the hero and villain, fit in to the MCU.
But before I do that, let me say, this movie was great. As a company, Marvel has their formula down so tight that it seems like they could make a Dr. Druid movie at this point and hit it out of the park.
A nice touch this time around is that we already got to meet Black Panther back in Captain America: Civil War, so we were able to avoid some of the origin story beats that slow other first time solo outings down. (The same trick they used for Spider-Man: Homecoming, I should point out.)
With that cinematic primer, and just a dash of comic book Panther to set the stage for me, the trip to Wakanda was everything I expected and more. This was a fully realized mythology handed to us on a hot plate with all the fixings, a dish best served with popcorn and a bag of gummy bears.
However, the world is only as good as its inhabitants and the hero and villain of this movie were two of Marvel’s strongest offerings to date: Chadwick Boseman as King T’Challa the Black Panther and Michael B. Jordan as Erick Killmonger.
Let’s start with Boseman’s T’Challa, a man that has lost his father and inherited a throne. A king, a man of action, but also a man bound to the traditions of his people’s past whether he agrees with them or not. Boseman is stoic when he needs to be, has a solid tough-guy face and exudes a similar warmth as Chris Evans as Captain America. The man is every inch the hero. Although his character does face internal and external conflicts throughout the film, at no time does Black Panther tread on shades of grey, which I think is a huge part of the likability of the character and something Marvel has right across the board.
But if Black Panther is out of the greys, Erik Killmonger lives deep inside them. This is one of the great great Marvel villains on display; a character with motivations and means that while hard to endorse, are not hard to understand. Jordan is equal parts ferocious and methodical with a layered performance that deserves all the praise. His physicality, another product of the MCU Human Torch reclamation project, is pretty extraordinary. He looks great, he means what he says and he presents a physical threat to our hero while also forcing him to examine himself and his world.
I know that there is the ongoing critique of Marvel films featuring a hero fighting the opposite version of themselves, but in this case the battle for the throne by two equals feels absolutely right.
If I have one complaint about this film, it is that the final battle between T’Challa and Killmonger is largely left to their CGI counterparts rather than the actors themselves. Yes, the CGI is good, but it still looks like CGI. Maybe the set pieces would have to change or maybe the suits would have to be less glowy, but these two actors could have invested a tangible physicality to their final slugfest that video game characters just can’t. Put in the words of Ken Watanabe: “Let them fight!”
CGI aside, Black Panther has raised the bar for Marvel films and for the superhero genre as a whole. The evil robot, alien swarm, and sky beam have been done to death and then some. Give me a grounded, motivated villain like Erik Killmonger over a swarm of CG space monsters any day.
And for that matter, give me a hero that is indeed a hero. Let my heroes be an inspiration, a leader, a person of principals and courage. Let my hero be worthy of a throne and a kingdom.
There was so much to love and so much to say about Black Panther, so I hope you enjoyed my two cents and found your own vibranium treasure in this layered and exceptionally well done film.
From the 905 to the 616, this has been, Heroes and Villains.