Friday, March 2, 2018

Black Panther

My problem with superhero movies is that the main characters are able to use magic, or some sort of technology as of yet unknown to us, essentially magic, to apparently violate the laws of physics.  It is not realistic to see most of these characters do what they do, so in this respect these movies seem kind of silly, but these are fantasy films so we should make allowances.  Despite this reservation, I have enjoyed all the recent Superman movies that I have seen, because Superman is a character whose story is well ingrained into the American psyche, with the caveat I have not yet seen the recent and much maligned Justice League.  

An example of where Black Panther violates the laws of physics is that the  main character wears a suit that can absorb a huge amount of kinetic energy, and release that kinetic energy back out on demand.  This is an interesting part of the story, but I refer you to Newton's third law of motion that says for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.  If the suit stops a large amount of kinetic energy, the wearer is going acquire some of that velocity.  If anything, the movie is inconsistent on how this works, because sometimes the character will recoil from blows and sometimes not.

The premise of Black Panther, where a much more technologically advanced afrocentric civilization, Wakanda, is hidden in the heart of Africa, comes across to me just as silly as other superhero movies, given that it mixes tribal customs and attire with science fiction technology.  This mixture of old and new makes the movie a fantastic visual spectacle, but stretches believability.

What makes any movie like this good is whether the characters and story are engaging enough for us to suspend our disbelief and enjoy the film.  Here Black Panther shines with its characters, and a most interesting villain.  Add to that a philosophical story that contemplates what role a more advanced civilization should play in helping others?   These elements alone would be sufficient for a pretty good movie, but the science fiction parts of the story also make the film a visual treat.  

There is a great deal of fighting in this movie, and it feels a little repetitive, like they couldn't come up with anything better to do.  However, most of these scenes are fun to watch.  

Often I felt like the characters were a little muddled on their motivations, because the central conflict of the film is whether Wakanda should remain isolationist or share its advanced technology to help the rest of the world?  One also wonders how Wakanda could be such a prosperous civilization when it is not willing to export its only real natural resource, which is a mysterious metal called vibranium?

The Hero's Journey is a type of myth going back thousands of years that follows the same pattern, where the hero goes on a journey, at some point fails and almost dies, is reborn and finally succeeds, and in some stories becomes a king on the return of his journey.  George Lucas popularized this type of storytelling in movies, but it has become repetitive and overdone.  Black Panther follows this pattern so closely that parts of the movie are predictable.

I was a little burned out on superhero movies because there have been so many of them, the result of which is that few of them have been exceptional.  Despite a few minor problems, Black Panther is different enough that it is like a breath of fresh air.

Rating:  * * * 1/2

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