Sorry to not post for so long; when I get stuck in my writing, even my casual writing suffers. Now with the complete alpha-reader draft of Recursion complete, I’m finally turning my head to writing of other things and playing catch-up on a backlog of posts. So now for the most immediate thing: the latest Marvel Studios hit, The Black Panther.
Okay, to get the review/rating out of the way, I give TBP 4 out of 5 stars. I’ve read reviews that said the movie dragged in places, but I thought it was well paced and accomplished all it set out to do. The action has Marvel’s now-usual trademark combination of thrills and chuckles, the writing was excellent, and the leads and practically every supporting actor oozed charisma, gravitas, nobility, and villainy as called for. In the universe of Marvel movies, I put it up there with the best of the Thor and Captain Americas. Well done.
Just as important, Marvel Studios has done its usual job of carefully slotting it into the wider Marvel Ciniverse, another stone in the foundation of the up-coming blowout with Avengers 3.
Now let’s get the politics out of the way. I always avoid reading any reviews of a show I intend to see, and The Black Panther was no exception. However, this time I was doubly careful to avoid any political/social discussion of a movie I hadn’t seen yet. Seeing some of the reactions since, I think my caution was justified. And this is keeping in mind that TBP isn’t the first superhero movie starring a black actor. I don’t know if I missed any here, but these are the ones I know of:
- THE METEOR MAN (1993) Starring Robert Townsend.
- BLANKMAN (1994) Starring Damon Wayan.
- SPAWN (1997) Starring Michael Jai White.
- STEEL (1997) Starring Shaquille O’Neal.
- BLADE (1998) Starring Wesley Snipes.
- BLADE II (2002) Starring Wesley Snipes.
- BLADE TRINITY (2004) Starring Wesley Snipes.
- CATWOMAN (2004) Starring Halle Berry.
- HANCOCK (2008) Starring Will Smith.
- SUICIDE SQUAD (2016) Starring Will Smith.
So reactions like Salon’s tweet: “‘Black Panther’ is the first blockbuster-format release featuring a black hero front and center http://ow.ly/n9Eu30if1Wm.” are a little over the top. I’m glad I avoided the to-and-fro conversations around the movie (one reviewer declared that the fight was between T’Challa (the nationalist) and Killmonger (the racist)).
Me, I just liked the movie.
Which didn’t stop me from dissecting the “unreality” of Wakanda for a second. I did have one major problem with the backstory, but it was simply this. The story goes that Wakanda benefited from the presence of the wonder-element, vibranium. We already know it can to amazing things. But it’s not sufficient explanation for Wakanda’s advanced superscience.
Science hasn’t advanced because of the presence of any specific resource; it’s advanced because of the relationship between science, technology, and markets. Science indicates something is possible, and markets create a demand for technologies making use of the science, which spurs more science, which opens more technologies, which demand turns into more goods, etc etc, wash and repeat forever. Competition between markets, and competition between states (often military competition) further spurs innovation and progress.
And naturally, the bigger the markets, the greater industry specialization becomes, the faster the advances with more researchers and more money being thrown at finding new edges to leverage into market-dominance, again wash and repeat forever.
But according to the story, Wakanda has remained isolated for centuries if not millennia. What would really have happened would be Japan’s story; centuries of stagnation. It’s a small criticism, I know, but the problem could easily have been fixed by expanding the backstory a little. Perhaps the massive vibranium-load attracted a Kree mining colony that conquered the locals and forced them to work extracting the vibranium. The Wakandans rebelled and overthrew their conquerers, gaining their technology as a foundation as well. They may have spent centuries reverse-engineering and making advances on the Kree technology they had, but now due to sheer numbers and massive industrial base the rest of the developed world is finally catching up to them. Wakanda’s brilliant scientists are simply outnumbered (plus US scientists are getting a huge boost from studying the stuff from the Chitari Invasion).
But this is a minor detail; overall, TBP was a solid piece of world-building. I look forward to TBP 2, not to mention Wakanda’s moment in the upcoming Avengers 3.
2 thoughts on “Wakanda Nights.”
Versions of Wakanda I’ve come across before (in Marvel comics other than the Black Panther) have typically felt like Wakanda is an apology for the USA’s racial history. Wakanda is a paradise with no colonialism or racial history to be ashamed of. The movie examined this but managed to keep Wakanda from being an idealised moral actor through Killmongers criticism (I’m told this happens in TBP comics too, but I’ve never read them).
As for the “science”, I agree with you on how real scientific advance happens, but for the purposes of this setting having a mineral that makes colossal tech short cuts possible is not unreasonable – its no less credible than the one man tech boom and polymath that is Tony Stark.
Also on tech, some reviews called out Shuri as the source of all Wakanda’s tech. I was ready to dislike her due to descriptions like “better and younger than Stark” because having a new character who’s defining trait is “like this old character, but better” is lazy writing. Fortunately the movie didn’t take that line and Shuri just came across as a (for the MCU) regular hypergenius. It was lovely to see the reviews were winding me up about nothing.
Another way they could explain things would be if they went the Prester John route. Before vibranium, they had insane amounts of gold, the secrecy came about when their early king made overtures to the west with the Prester John letter, and the world responded with massive greed, so they went seriously one-way borders. In the mean time using the immense wealth like some of the greater persian shahs and emirs of baghdad to collect a base of all the world’s learning, get that all-important ‘founder effect’ going culturally. Be the silent partner in a lot of research, push tech here and there over the last few centuries, that sort of thing.
I guess it’s a silly complaint for a made-up physical mineral but I wondered how the heck they work vibranium without all the intermediary steps of building up mining tech.
I do agree that the most likely outcome, by far, would be akin to pre-Meiji Japan, though I’d also say crossed a bit with the Yazidis.