18 February 2018

Black Heroes Matter

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Saying that there are too many superhero movies is a bit like claiming to be a “stable genius” in that the only realistic response to both should be to ask, “what the fuck are you talking about?” Both Thor: Ragnarok and Justice League are technically 'superhero' movies but do they have any real similarities? The former was like getting stoned and watching Masters Of The Universe through a kaleidoscope whereas the latter was like stumbling over in the dark and getting dog shit in your eyes... except in that case you kind of hoped you'd go blind. Black Panther is the latest film to be released within the Marvel Cinematic Universe and again it couldn't be more different from what's come before. I guess when people think of 'superhero' movies they think of a super-powered nobody putting on a mask to protect their identity before going out to fight crime. And I suppose Black Panther does wear a mask to fight things. But so do Mexican wrestlers and nobody seems to include them despite how many dwarves they defeat. Rather than tackling crime though, Black Panther is actually about a newly coronated king as he attempts to protect the throne of his advanced albeit isolated African nation from an outsider that's understandably bitter about colonisation and the treatment of his race. To dismiss that as 'just another superhero movie' would be like indiscriminately breathing in carbon monoxide on the grounds of “fuck it.. it's all just gas”.

The film begins with quite a lot of exposition in which we learn the history of the Black Panther, as a father tells his son that if he eats a magical purple flower he'll gain super-powers. Although... I still maintain that my Mum was full of shit when she told me that carrots would help me to see in the dark! Then we see that same father trying to sort out some shit in America in the early 90's before cutting to modern day and finding out that he was the old bloke that died in an explosion during Captain America: Civil War. In the 90's that guy was ripped to hell, but at the point that he was blown up he looked like the news reader Trevor McDonald. I guess this purple flower thing is good for strength but causes you to age like a pear under a fucking heat lamp. From this point we're re-introduced to his son T'Challa who has now taken on the role of Black Panther and is about to become King of Wakanda. Which also means that we need introducing to Wakanda and its entire history, including being hit by a meteor containing vibranium, which in turn caused the region's technology to advance faster than anywhere else on Earth. You don't know what vibranium is? Oh, it's the strongest metal on the planet. Huh? No.. you're thinking of adamantium which is from the X-Men Universe. No.. the X-Men are Marvel but they're owned by Fox and so separate from this which is the MCU. Err.. yes, Disney did just buy Fox.. and yes it does own the MCU. You know what.. it doesn't fucking matter because despite being part of a larger story, Black Panther works pretty perfectly as a stand alone movie. Thank fuck.

One of the many geniuses of Black Panther though is that not only does it clearly explain all of this but it does so in a way that doesn't even feel remotely forced. It simply starts with the broadest information and then works its way down to the real heart of the story as though structured to resemble a human-centipede that's been arranged in height order. You'll notice that in all of that, I didn't even mention that the film had to introduce us to our main villain Killmonger, who's played to absolute perfection by Michael B Jordan. Nor is he even introduced properly until what feels like we're significantly into this movie. He doesn't come completely out of the blue having had the seeds of his existence sown beforehand.. but it allows the film to explain itself and its main characters first. Which is lucky because when he does turn up he's so mesmerising that your full attention will be drawn towards him with the kind of sucking power that Hugh Grant might get arrested for paying for. The MCU is often criticised for its weak villains, however in this film they've really hit the golden bollock of perfection. Killmonger doesn't have any moral lesson to learn from T'Challa. In fact he actually justifies himself pretty fucking well. Both men want to help people, however the way in which they go about it is informed by what they prioritise as their responsibilities. Coupled with how he's the exact opposite and yet still a perfect shadow of how T'Challa himself could have so easily turned out, Killmonger's not only a fully formed character but one that will influence the future world view of the hero. Think of Maleketh from Thor: The Dark World and then imagine the total fucking opposite of whatever that was.

Interestingly, Jordan's Killmonger is getting a lot of comparisons to Heath Ledger's Joker which is kind of misleading. Both are great performances and both have a rock-star swagger to them. However the very point of the Joker is that he has no plan, whereas Killmonger couldn't be more focused if he was a middle aged-woman with a paintball gun aimed at her cheating husband's cock. The Joker is also so exaggeratedly extroverted that he often leaves the psychotically introverted Batman a little forgotten in his own movie. By contrast, Killmonger enhances the already great performance of Chadwick Boseman's T'Challa by perfectly reflecting his darker self. Killmonger is a fully formed character whose understandable worldview challenges the still-forming Black Panther's. His justified rage also helps to show T'Challa's nobility and desire to learn and understand instead of to control and to dictate. The better comparison for the two would be Magneto and Professor X over Batman and the Joker. Except maybe it's more the younger Magneto and Professor X because, unlike McKellen and Stewart, Jordan and Boseman are ripped to shit. Killmonger scars his body with every kill he gets and so when he takes his shirt off the marks make it look like he's caught some disease from fucking chickens in the 1930's American dust bowl. And yet he looks so good that I'm starting to think Rocky missed a trick when he caught that chicken and then just let it go.

As this film is from Ryan Coogler, the director of Creed, it probably goes without saying that the action is brilliantly choreographed with one Casino sequence out-Bonding even Bond. Before Killmonger turns up we're treated to a stand-in villain in the form of the enjoyably bat-shit Andy Serkis. Seems as we see the actors actual face for a change I think it would have only been fair to have had his character played by a chimp in a motion capture suit. Along with CIA agent Martin Freeman, they're pretty much the only two white people in the film. At one point the captured Serkis intends to make a deal with Freeman for his freedom which goes about as well as you might imagine, considering the last time they were together he couldn't even win a game of 'what's in my pocket?' Regardless of these two crackers brightening up the movie though, it seems Coogler has rounded up a cast of almost every great black actor in the world. I didn't spot Denzel Washington in there so I can only assume that he'd shaved his head, popped on some fake tits, and played one of the many female warriors. As a result of all of this, the terms that are being thrown around to describe the movie is 'Afrofuturism'. In honesty I'd never heard of this before but it's described as being a 'cultural aesthetic that merges elements of sci-fi, fantasy, history, and magic realism, but with an Afrocentric world-view that's combined with non-western cosmologies in order to examine and possibly re-contextualise contemporary and historical black issues'. Well.. throw in the warring families of The Godfather and you'll basically have Black Panther. So... to anybody saying that there are too many superhero movies... what the fuck are you talking about? Thanks for reading and see you next time, motherfuckers.

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