With caution being the better part of valor, I figured I should just review this here.
Black Panther (2018)
The 1960s were a time of great civil rights unrest, an African-American community restless to throw off the yokes of a century of Jim Crow oppression that followed on the heels of many centuries of enslavement. Out of that political fire came a fierce debate within the movement symbolized by Martin Luther King, Jr. preaching peaceful resistance while Malcolm X argued for something much closer to armed rebellion. There is certainly an ethical debate to be had about the merits of each, but to some degree the practical one makes the ethical moot. It is hard to imagine an armed rebellion leading to success instead of just increased devastation.
Half a decade later, we again find ourselves in an era of civil rights unrest and Black Panther uses the mix of science fiction and superhero tropes to ask the question, what if the rebellion could be given a power advantage. What if they could be enabled to succeed in their rebellion, removing the pragmatic question and forcing us to face just the ethical one. In this case the Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) steps into the MLK role while Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) is Malcolm X. The interesting historical antecedent to the debate that eventually develops is the status quo of Wakanda doing nothing. But by the end that alternative is dismissed entirely. Doing nothing simply is not an option in the face of injustice, especially not in the name of nationalistic isolationism. This aspect feels like a universal appeal, not just one regarding racial injustice.
In having Black Panther's ideology win out, it certainly takes the more broadly palatable alternative, and maybe the right one. Given the massive box office results I imagine this isn't the last we'll see of this story, and it'll be interesting to see if they build on the choice for social and scientific engagement. I'd almost have been as interested in seeing the counterfactual sequel where Killmonger gets to unleash his uprising. This is too much of a fantasy that we have no real world proof of how either would turn out, but the option they went for certainly does allow things to remain relatively more grounded, even if we don't know just how far this movement can take us.
Anyway, the film's social resonance aside, it is just a splendid action film. A top to bottom stellar cast. The two rivals I've mentioned are both played by people who have done award-worthy work, but that doesn't even touch the Oscar-winning, Oscar-nominated, and Emmy-winning cast members much less the likely future nominees. In some ways Letitia Wright was bound to be my favorite because I am drawn to this sort of precocious role (it is unclear exactly how old Shuri is supposed to be...maybe it is insulting to feel like she is drawn as a teenager who just happens to be a scientific genius rather than a fully fledged adult, but she does have a particularly casual style). Not all the action scenes quite work but there are some great ones that keep good geography to the cinematography and editing. And it keeps to a minimum the typical flaw of two indestructible forces bouncing off each other that even Wonder Woman sunk to in the end.