#17 in my Ranking of The MCU Phases 1-3.
Expository dialogue from beginning to end, coincidence to make James Fennimore Cooper blush, an incoherent structure, a laughably small timeframe for the story, really dodgy special effects, incoherent world building, and a pretty decent bad guy make for a bad film overall.
Ryan Coogler took the situation the Russos made in Civil War, T’challa being the Black Panther, and added so much unnecessary complexity to the situation. For some reason, he tied being the Black Panther to being King of Wakanda, even though it’s obviously not necessary. Throwing in a requirement that T’challa lose his Panther powers for a fight to the death with anyone who wants to challenge him to take the throne made sense in the wake of that decision overall (because of how the second one plays out), but it creates massive structural and logic problems on top of it. Is this really how the country’s next leader is decided? Whomever can kill the other in ritualized combat? And, there’s a drug that can give you super powers and another that can immediately take them away? It’s the kind of stupid you might expect from a comic book movie, but the powers are given and taken so easily and frequently within this individual film as to make the meaning of them smaller than intended.
So, T’Challa comes back from Europe after Civil War and has to become king and the Black Panther for real. He fights off a challenge from the fifth tribe in Wakanda who hasn’t been seen in hundreds of years and secures his throne. Meanwhile, they’ve received notice of Klauwe, a South African arms dealer who stole a bunch of their precious metal vibranium from them decades ago and killed a bunch of people in the process, including the father of __, who leads one of the five tribes of Wakanda and leads the military. T’Challa goes to South Korea to intercept Klauwe, fails when the antagonist Killmonger gets him first and kills him in a way that leads to everyone else dying. Killmonger than takes Klauwe’s body into Wakanda and immediately and coincidentally finds the one person in the whole country with both the inclination to listen to Killmonger at the sight of Klauwe’s body and the authority to back him if he should decide to challenge T’Challa.
Killmonger challenges T’Challa to the throne, wins by throwing T’Challa over the waterfall without ensuring that the one guy who could prevent him from keeping the crown is actually dead, and starts an imperialistic program that will see Wakanda forcefully take over other countries because they don’t align with his values. T’Challa is, of course, not dead, gets resuscitated and re-powered with the magic plant that gives him Black Panther powers before challenging Killmonger to a second fight which blows the whole country into its own civil war. Oh, and Killmonger had shown up less than twenty-four hours before.
This movie is a complete mess. The biggest issue is that the story itself really doesn’t start until an hour in when Killmonger shows up in Wakanda. Everything up to that point are subplots that don’t really matter. The first half hour deals with world building around a utopia with incomprehensible customs around government and an action scene that doesn’t really matter because T’Challa was effectively king before and is king afterwards. Hell, based on Civil War, I assumed that T’Challa was already king because he said so in that movie. Klauwe is an excuse to get an action scene in Seoul. Since Killmonger just shows up with Klauwe’s body, the whole action scene didn’t actually affect the story in any meaningful way. Once Killmonger gets there, we get a sense of a central conflict, but the conflict of visions isn’t built dramatically. It’s just people explaining their believes to each other in expository dialogue. Killmonger, while a pretty good villain considering his competition of antagonists in the Marvel Universe, is more of a hodgepodge of motives that never really get straightened out. He’s out for revenge and to make Wakanda an imperialistic power imposing its views on the world. Fine, but his motives for his actual actions seem more driven by the mere revenge and the stuff about imperialism is a coating on his motives. It doesn’t feel like the motives were ironed out particularly well.
In the end, I find this a confusing slog of a film. The final fight gets ridiculous, not because it has war rhinos (which are kinda cool in a superficial way), but because of the short timeframe that the whole story has taken place. This great jewel of the world, hidden away because of its awesomeness, was thrown into complete chaos within a twenty-four hour period and only resolved because one guy got stabbed in the heart. I mean, there’s disruptive and then there’s a utopia that’s never had its power structure challenged in the least way, undermining its status as a utopia. It also looks rather bland. There are bright colors in terms of costumes, but outside of that the movie leans much more heavily towards the visual aesthetic of Captain America than Guardians of the Galaxy or Thor: Ragnarok. Things look kind of blandly typical in Wakanda with science that has a visual texture that feels a whole lot like Tony Stark’s tech that undermines the idea that Wakanda’s science is all that advanced. It could have done better with a bigger embrace of the outlandish, though the waterfalls and costumes do provide some visual flair in an otherwise bland soup.