Faced with the loss of their charismatic and talented lead actor, the team at the Marvel Studios was faced with a crisis of huge proportions. Do they recast the part or do they find another way to proceed with one of the most important surviving character lines after the pinnacle of Endgame? I think most fans who see this will agree they made the right choice. By acknowledging the death of T’Challa and creating a new path to becoming the “Black Panther”, they have cleared the way for new stories on this path while still respecting the legacy that Chadwick Boseman had helped to create. Director Ryan Coogler and his co-writer Joe Robert Cole have handled the transition gracefully. There are still issues with the film but none of those will diminish the memory we have of our original Panther star.
The movie does have an interesting perspective with a political angle that will sound familiar as we go along. Wakanda has lost it’s King and his guilt ridden sister is angry at the world and herself. The Queen seems to rule with confidence but is struggling to show her daughter a way to grieve that will strengthen her rather than weaken her. There are some good action scenes that surround an attempt by other nations to obtain access to the resource vibranuim , the source of Wakanda’s power. Queen Romanda, has a stronger case than Colin Powell was able to make, since they present the captured mercenaries to the U.N. in person. Her warning to the world reveals that she has a steel backbone and a sense of righteousness to go with it. Angela Bassett has the kind of dialogue in this scene that should launch a thousand memes.
It does not give away anything to say that a new power appears on the scene with some legitimate gripes about how the late King T’Challa has created a problem for their world. Namor, the ruler of the undersea kingdom of Talokan, has a spine as unbending as Romanda, and the two powers find confrontation in the ultimatum, because a moral choice has to be made. Shuri, the princess of Wakanda chooses an ethical path at first, but manipulation and deception are required to free herself and an innocent scientist from captivity, and the consequences trigger a moral crisis. The fact that Wakanda is not a colonial power per se gives them some perceived high ground in the clash between the rest of the world and Wakanda, but that position seems shaky when Talokan enters the picture and the Wakandans react the way any powerful nation must with a display of power of their own. As with many grievances between nations, there is a valid point of view on most sides, but resolving the differences requires diplomacy which is not enhanced by belligerence. Everyone gets to suffer a bit in the process.
Vibranium has been the McGuffin in other MCU plots and that is one of the drawbacks for me. Although it makes perfect sense that it would be a continuing issue, as the power stones were for the Avenger’s movies, it feels a little tired. The scientist who creates a tool for locating the resource in potential underwater locations, is of course a young student, far in advance of her own instructors and not able to realize the dangers of her own work. This is a trope of dozens of stories, and the fact that she becomes the plot driving device also seems to be a bit old. However the action scenes involving her kidnapping, second kidnapping and subsequent rescue, are all solid moments for a comic style action film. I do have a complaint about the look of the movie. In these days of high definition, it is a regular occurrence that stories take place in the dark. More than two thirds of this film take place underwater, or at night, rendering several dim sequences that just look washed out. Apparently, this was also shot for 3D presentations and lighting for that effect frequently contributes to a less than stellar sharpness to the images.
Namor as an antagonist is convincing and strong, with some self justifying principles. When he leads the final confrontation and the way to defeat him is basically a giant hair dryer, that power seems less intimidating. It’s as if retreating to Death Valley would solve Wakanda’s problems with Talokan. It was not clear to me how the lakes and rivers of Africa would give a sea based power access to a landlocked nation, but that is just comic book exposition that does not matter much. On the podcast this week, we heard an interesting perspective on the original Black Panther, and many of the issues raised by that point of view are addressed by this film. I will say however that if you think that Killmonger’s solution was the appropriate one, you have given up the high moral ground and accepted the notion that “might makes right” which is the antithesis of the story. Replacing one imperial power with another is not a good solution. Shuri has to learn that lesson as well, and that is the real journey of this plot.