Review Roundup - Cat Power


With the Marvel hero roster slowly building up to a bursting point it's always a little concerning when they reel things back in to tell yet another origin story. It feels like a sidewards step and raises questions when certain characters are absent later on. However the introduction of regal warrior T'Challa (Chadwick Boseman) was certainly a highlight during the earlier Captain America adventure, and my similar concerns with Spider-Man: Homecoming proved to be unwarranted. Would my scepticism be warranted here or is this another hit? If anything this avoids being a mid-tier by the numbers spectacle like Ant-Man, but as a film it's aims are more complex and requires further examination.

The story takes place in a period of transition, both for the nation of the Wakanda and the rest of the world in this universe. After his father's death, T'Challa must taken on the mantle of both ruler of the secretive state and that of the super powered protector. There are choices to be considered as Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis) threatens to undermine their status as a hidden El Dorado style wonderland fuelled by the ever present mystery metal 'vibranium'. Should the rulers of Wakanda reveal themselves to the outside on their own terms before he leads other more nefarious forces to their doorstep? Is it right that they hide away instead of giving more aid to the surrounding regions?

There's an overall theme present about the nature of change and progress, and whether it's a positive force or a destructive one. The cost of staying away from world affairs often seems to be rather bloody, particularly when events transpire to keep betrayers of the kingdom silent. However this is a patchy narrative and many aspects are only touched upon without any deeper discussion. In particular the idea that tradition stunts growth is only given brief debate as whiz-kid Shuri (Letitia Wright) openly scoffs at the idea of potential rulers vying for power through ritual combat. It certainly lacks any obvious moments of self realisation and nobody really considers that leaders might need more than muscle mass to become king.

It's an odd mixture of ideas and story beats as the usual death of a father figure origin story has already been dealt with, but the rest of the plot still feels uneven. It might seem ridiculous to consider any of this in another CGI filled punching fest, but life on Asgard was never meant to connect with the real world or comment on global politics. We're not supposed to take the bloodline of Odin seriously, whereas here the whole setting hints at allegory. A script that invites debate should be examined a little more closely after all, particularly when characters talk about real history. Maybe it's all going to be reconsidered in the sequel, but until then the hereditary right of rule and the challenge of power by brute force alone is just an odd choice for a utopia, and a law that exists so the bad guy can make his move.

The main core to the story is the tale of Michael B. Jordan's ridiculously monikered bad guy Killmonger (Erik to his friends) an outcast who has trained in the military and longs to take the crown from T'Challa and of course rule the world. He's seen real poverty and suffering, so in some ways this another interesting take on the usual comic book evil doer. His overall scheme to release the technology of Wakanda to the world and watch a bloodbath loses him the sympathy vote, but it's something at least. Like the rest of the cast Jordan does a solid job with often clunky material. It's a shame that his one armed ally Klaue (pronounced Claw) doesn't get more screen time, as he offers a sillier face to a film that can often be a bit too dour.

Taking things more seriously does work in the favour of many elements here, particularly Boseman's portrayal of a naive but stoic hero. There are no wisecracks from him, although Wright as Shuri offers plenty of lighter moments as a counter point. The other cast members all get a fair shot at memorable moments, although rival clan leaders M'Baku (Winston Duke) and W'Kabi (Daniel Kaluuya) are underwritten; their motivations feeling forced or changing on a dime as soon as the story demands it. Royal guard Okoye (Danai Gurira) is a more striking inclusion, though it's as a result of music choices and action beats that jump out as being more exciting than just visual effects wizardry alone.

The action overall is a lot of fun, with a casino battle and a highway chase in particular really showcasing the skills of each player. There are sweeping camera moves and vocal chants in the score that combine to create a real sense of movement and pacing. Later it does unfortunately fall into that whole ropey computer game visuals quagmire, and there's too much going on during a showdown that should have been more focused and personal. People might have offered Blade as an alternative black hero who should be better remembered, but the dodgy digital doubles are not something anyone should be reminded of. Beyond this the CGI field of battle finale with its space age shield technology is reminiscent of The Phantom Menace, a comparison they should have learned to avoid after the climax of the first Avengers outing.

The second half of the story kind of suffers because of both the lack of narrative focus as Killmonger's big plan comes to fruition, and the budget being strained when it comes to more super suits and flying hover ships. Ultimately this is just another Marvel story, and people can take or leave the messages it offers. I'd prefer if they'd gone further and provided more meaningful answers along the way instead of just a series of mild considerations. Is the privilege of the sons of a monarchy bad even without lunatics seeking revenge showing up? Do people need to live in shanty towns and huts rearing rhinos in the shadow of a technological cityscape? Should they give the magic powers of a plant grown from space rocks to more than one warrior? There are many things to consider. It's not a bland Doctor Strange heroes journey at least, but there's a lot more they could have done with the material.