On this week’s Fresh Films, we review the highly anticipated new Marvel movie, Black Panther. Transcript below
[“Seasons” – Mozzy, Sjava and Reason]
Marco: You have to buy into the corporate attempts to make this all connected. You have to buy into the corporate mindset and declare your brand loyalty to Marvel by watching all the way to the credits. Come on.
Marcus: After credits, you mean. Watching just to the credits is just watching the movie. Right?
Elliot: Well, the credits are party of the movie.
Marcus: No they’re not.
Elliot: They put the music in. There’s a little bit of… You know, there are mid-credit scenes. There are after-credit scenes. There’s little MPAA…
Marcus: I know, but they’re not part of the self-contained story.
Elliot: They are! The after-credit scenes are.
Marcus: No, they’re fucking not! They’re really not.
Marco: So welcome to Fresh Films. We’re a podcast devoted to movies that just came out in Evanston. I’m Marco Cartolano.
Marcus: I’m Marcus Galeano
Elliot: I’m Elliot Kronsberg.
Marco: Today, we’re going to be talking about the newest film from the Marvel Cinematic Universe: Black Panther. Black Panther has sort of become a big cultural deal for a few reasons. It’s the first film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe that stars a Black superhero, has a mostly Black cast, even has a Black director: Ryan Coogler, who has directed Fruitvale Station and Creed. And this has become sort of a mini cultural event outside of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Because now you see organizations busing children to see the movie. You see a lot of representation on Twitter of people getting very excited to see Black Panther. So it’s an event that I think still needs to be talked about. The film stars Chadwick Boseman as the superhero who's also a king of a fictional African nation called Wakanda. We also have Michael B. Jordan, whose been a bit of a muse for Ryan Coogler in the past as the villain, Killmonger. And you have like a kind of stacked cast too. You have Forest Whitaker as like a spiritual adviser.
Elliot: Angela Bassett as T’Challa’s mother.
Marco: Lupita Nyong’o as this spy whose a love interest. And...
Marcus: You also have Danai Gurira. I think that’s how you pronounce her name. She plays Michonne on The Walking Dead. And in this film she portrays sort of the Wakandan general who serves as sort of the right hand woman, if you will, of T’Challa.
Marco: To add even more names to this cast, you’ve got Daniel Kaluuya from Get Out as this adviser role. You’ve got Andy Serkis, famous for being Gollum in Lord of the Rings in a live action role.
Elliot: You’ve got Martin Freeman from The Office,Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,The Hobbit. And you’ve got Letitia Wright who was just on Black Mirror.
Marco: So you have that large list of characters. And it’s the story of T’Challa becoming the king of Wakanda, which is a really rich nation because they have this very important metal called vibranium in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It’s a really rich and technologically advanced nation, but they have to pretend that they’re not in order to not have their stuff get stolen by the rest of the world. And T’Challa’s dad has died and T’Challa’s now going to become king. This is happening while we’re talking about whether or not Wakanda should be more open and at the same time, Michael B. Jordan’s character and Andy Serkis, who is this arms dealer in the film, they’re up to some shady stuff, too. That gets on the radar of our heroes and causes problems for them. So, out of the bat, I guess this is a very strong cast. Chadwick Boseman’s good in the role. Michael B. Jordan is as charismatic as he always is as the villain. He’s actually, I think, one of the strongest villains these films have had and that’s a problem they’ve had in the past. He’s got swagger. He’s got anger, and they actually find ways to make his motives more complex than the usual sort and tie it into real world issues pertaining to colonialism, to slavery, to the issue of how you handle oppression. He does a great job. The female cast too is great. Lupita Nyong’o is good. Letitia Wright is one of the big standouts as this techie, kind of quirky sister role.
Marcus: She has an excellent rapport with Chadwick Boseman. They really feel as if they’re siblings with each other and you get a real sense of cohesiveness. You really feel a sense of strength with them and they work well off of each other. Especially in the comedic sense.
Marco: Which is really important because the humor is Marvel humor and you’re either going to think it’s funny or you’re going to be tired of it after 95 different movies.
Elliot: I think Shuri is a really interesting character because we don’t really know the gender dynamics of Wakanda besides the fact that they’re all kings, Shuri is unabashedly confident and…
Marcus: Kind of impish, I would say.
Elliot: Yeah, she’s kind of impish and I think she’s supposed to be a little precocious but I really appreciated that she knew she was the smartest person in the room all the time. And it’s kind of nice to see Letitia Wright instead of like Robert Downey Jr. playing this game because he’s a 50 year-old man and you know it’s nice to see a younger, fresher, not grizzled-by-drug-addiction kind of face.
Marco: And having to star in 50 different movie sort of…
Marcus: It was actually one of the things I actually kind of appreciated about this movie is T’Challa. He’s not the typical, the Steven Strange or the Tony Stark where he knows everything and he’s just constantly being an annoyance. A bit of an asshole with these little one-liners and zips and zaps if you will. He’s a much more straight-jawed character. There’s intelligence and a sense of honor and responsibility with him. And I think a lot of people will gravitate toward that. It also helps that he’s in, like, the coolest costume ever devised. The Black Panther costume is like –what can you even say about it? –it’s just cool, I’m sorry.
Elliot: It was a really complex film, the themes and the politics of it. Especially for a superhero movie. Because when I was sitting in the movie I was thinking “Killmonger’s making a lot of sense.” And basically every time someone would call out Wakanda on being isolationist, it makes a lot of sense. You have this technologically advanced nation in the middle of East Africa that everybody else thinks is a Third World Country. And you kind of think in the Marvel world, there are African Americans. There are people of African descent all over the western world who came there because of slavery. Slavery exists in the Marvel universe and what does Wakanda have to say about that?
Marcus: I don’t know. The thing that didn’t quite work with Killmonger for me is that I would agree he’s definitely in the upper echelon of Marvel cinematic villains. It’s pretty much like Loki and then everyone else. It’s like next to dinosaur bones. And then I’d say is Loki, a little bit below is Killmonger, and then there’s just everyone else.
Elliot: I don’t know. Hela, Hela kind of has a similar dynamic to Killmonger. In –
Marcus: Sort of a revisionist sort of thing.
Elliot: I mean it’s kind of a revisionist, but it’s like these are both people who are fighting their family because they were abandoned. I mean, I liked Thor: Ragnarok but…
Marcus: I feel like this is more what I wanted Thor: Ragnarok to be. And going back to Killmonger, the thing that I didn’t quite resonate with him as much in that regard is the fact that he makes these big sweeping speeches about political differences that he has with the Wakandan government. I was into that conflict but the thing is that he just goes around murdering people and he’s got this sort of big bravado about him as like, “yeah, that’s true but you’re really, really evil." I feel like I need maybe one more scene where I could see him vulnerable or I could start to maybe sympathize more with him a little bit. But I don’t know it’s just me, other people seem to like him.
Elliot: I saw an article talking about how a lot of the best villains have been anti-heroes and Killmonger is not an anti-hero.
Marcus: No, he’s a bastard.
Elliot: Which I’m a little disappointed in because he had like some legitimate gripes with Wakanda and with T’Challa. There’s some fucked up stuff going on and…
Marcus: Well, that’s where his character arc comes in. He acknowledges the stuff in fucked up and he tries to atone for those sins. Which is a satisfying arc for me.
Marco: So, I want to transition more into the filmmaking and the cinematography. OK, you still have the Marvel cliches in this film in terms of a lot of CGI. In the construction of Wakanda, I think it’s good. Actually, Wakanda’s one of the better aspects of the film that it feels pretty realized as a location. But in the way that its constructed, it’s very visually interesting. There’s some CGI bumps with hills and rhinos…
Elliot: I didn’t see the hills.
Marcus: Yeah I wasn’t thinking about the hills. I was thinking about the rhinos, I was thinking about the panthers and I was especially thinking about the last fight between Killmonger and T’Challa in that sort of light bridge that looked really fake.
Marco: Also while the fight scenes have that overedited marvel style, but Coogler smuggles in some of his expertise he’s learned from Creed into it. Like there’s a one take scene in a casino fight that’s really cool. There’s hand-to-hand fights that while they have the editing he does some interesting things with light and the way that the sunlight plays on their bodies that makes it a bit more compelling of a scene than it would be.
Elliot: I think that a lot of it, especially with the light, is Rachel Morrison, the cinematographer. Because she did Fruitvale Station, she did Mudbound.
Marco: Yes, I’ll give Morrison credit for that too. Also props to her being the the first female to be nominated for best cinematography for Mudbound. So, shoutout to her.
Elliot: Which is kind of fucking ridiculous when you look at a lot of female cinematographers. I know that there’s an article on Indiewire right now talking about eight female cinematographers who also should have been nominated over the past 30 or so years.
[“Black Panther” – Kendrick Lamar]
Marco: So I think we’re going to move to final thoughts. Elliot, what did you think?
Elliot: I really enjoyed this film. I already brought up that I wasn’t a huge fan of Michael B. Jordan’s Killmonger, but I really liked a lot of the other performances. I think Chadwick Boseman. I mean, we’d already seen him as Black Panther in Civil War, but I think he did a good job. For me, Letitia Wright as Shuri is the standout, just because she’s such a fun character and she’s a little precocious, a little impish. But, it’s because she knows her shit and she’s the smartest person in the room. She’s got the technology. She can remotely pilot vehicles from inside her little laboratory and I don’t know when she’s making her next appearance. I don’t know if she’ll show up in Infinity War It’d be cool if she did because it’s a fun character. Now in terms of the more formal aspects of the film, Rachel Morrison’s cinematography definitely adds to the film. There are a couple of hiccups I think. There’s a scene set in 1992 in kind of an apartment. I don’t think it was photographed very well. But I think she makes up for it in the ritual fight scenes between T’Challa and various challengers where we really do get to see how skilled she is as a cinematographer. Overall, if you like the Marvel movies, you’re going to see this one anyway. Because it’s a Marvel movie. If you like Ryan Coogler at all, especially Creed, recommend it. Marvel fan, it’s a must see. Coogler fan, must see. I’m not the expert on this, but representation is a good thing just like how it was great to have a female-led superhero movie with Wonder Woman, it’s great to have a superhero movie written, directed, starring these black celebrities. So yeah, I think overall it’s a good film. What about you, Marco?
Marco: So this film is a superhero movie. You’re going to have to deal with some of the Marvelisms, but overall it manages to transcend that in a lot of ways too. It has some of the best cinematography in a Marvel film, it has a very compact, self-contained world that’s really interesting to explore, it has great leads. I think that it’s in the upper tier of Marvel films in general and you’re going to probably be seeing this anyway, but I do think this is a film that’s going to matter a lot to people because of the representation aspect of it. I really enjoy the film, but I think it matters in that regard too that people can see themselves in these films.
Marcus: I’m going to preface this by parroting what you two have said. It very much is a Marvel film. All the trappings within. It’s got good characters that you somewhat care about, they have good dynamics with each other and it executes a theme pretty well. The thing with me, and I’m surprised we actually haven’t talked about this yet, that sets it a little above the rest of the mound is the aesthetic that they use. It’s very much informed by a sort of Afrofuturist aesthetic and very much informs the way Wakanda is developed–the architecture and the costumes and the pageantry that they use. I find it actually quite riveting and even if you couldn’t get into anything else I think if you have a penchant for something like that you could really take a lot of intrigue into that aspect of the film. It’s pretty solid as a film.
Elliot: Alright, this had been Fresh Films from NBN audio. I’m Elliot Kronsberg.
Marcus: I’m Marcus Galeano.
Marco: I’m Marco Cartolano.
Elliot: You can find us online in the audio section of NorthbyNorthwestern.com and on Apple Podcasts.
Marco: Thank you. See you next time.
Marcus: Have a good day.
[“Pray For Me” – The Weeknd & Kendrick Lamar]