Black Panther is approaching its fourth week and it’s earned over a billion worldwide so far. It’s one of the few that I’ve seen twice while it’s still in theaters. I don’t plan on seeing it a third time, but I will be buying it when it’s available on Blu-ray for a reason that I’ll cover later.
It opens with a boy asking his father to tell him a story of their homeland and this sets the foundation for how the meteorite containing vibranium struck Africa, altering the biology of the plants, animals and humans. The movie says it increases strength, speed and reflexes, but my opinion is that it also increased intelligence, which is what allowed the people of Wakanda to develop technology that the 21st century is just barely starting to catch up to. They choose isolation so that what they’ve made doesn’t reach the outside world, and their cloaking devices keep their civilization and tech a secret.
But they do keep track of what’s going on through covert ops and “watchdog” groups. King T’Chaka deals with one agent who assisted with vibranium being stolen, with that agent being his brother.
Twenty years later, and one week after T’Chaka is killed (as shown in Captain America: Civil War), T’Challa prepares for his coronation by retrieving an undercover operative so they can attend the ceremony. The ceremony is trial by combat where the perimeter keeps shrinking so that the appointee to the throne and whomever might challenge him cannot back down. To make the fight even, the powers of the Black Panther are stripped from T’Challa.
You know, I’m going to skip giving an overview of the rest of the movie because there’s two points I want to cover that are more important.
The first is the main villain of the story, Killmonger. But as with any great villain, he’s not really a villain. He’s got a legitimate problem he’s trying to fix. He’s dedicated his life to training and obtaining the skills he would need in order to challenge for the throne. And that problem goes back to the isolationist stance Wakanda has held to: Why have you always sat back and watched when there’s so much suffering in the world? You’ve got the power, you’ve got the technology. Use it and right the wrongs.
It’s a stance that teaches T’Challa the cost of tradition, and it fixes a problem in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Outside of Magneto, which at this point isn’t even an MCU character, the only other character to break out of “they’re bad because we say they’re bad” mold is Loki. You see the motivations that make Loki, Magneto and Killmonger work towards their goals, and it helps prove what Tom Hiddleston said a few years ago: “Every villain is a hero in his own mind.” That sentiment has been around in storytelling for centuries. Now Marvel is showing that they can get us to sympathize with the villains. It was needed.
Point #2, which is the “really cool thing” about the movie I mentioned a day or so ago, is the Wakandan alphabet. You can see a sample of it here, though I’m waiting for someone to combine it with the Wakanda-style English alphabet lettering, so you get the same effect as when it was used on-screen to identify places like London and Oakland, CA.
It was developed for the movie and appears everywhere. Signs, on the throne, inner-lip tattoos made with vibranium that serve as identification for native Wakandans, etc. But one of the most unexpected places turned out to be in the theater I first saw the movie in.
Theaters usually have cardboard displays to advertise upcoming movies. The one for Black Panther prominently featured BP in the center, and I noticed that the glowing purple areas of the suit contained the Wakandan alphabet. I got some pictures of it and there are messages in that bit of advertising. For example, I found the phrase “And I in going madam weep o’er my father.”
I want to find out what all the messages are, but it’s going to take a while. The way the alphabet was designed, it makes it difficult to figure out if each message was written backwards, upside down, if the letters were mirrored, or if it’s just spelling a nonsense word. There’s usually one distinct letter shape that helps you figure out the orientation.
What I think I noticed when I watched the movie the second time is those same letters might actually be in the BP suit in the movie. It glows purple like that when it’s storing up kintetic energy to be released. But if letters and words are actually appearing when this happens, then it would be interesting to see if they are changing each time.
And that’s why I want to buy this movie when it comes out on home video. I want to use freeze frame on different scenes and see what was slipped in there. And I want to find out if the people who made this movie took the time to add variations that could only be detected in this manner.
When you watch the movie, stick around for the in-credits scenes. The first ends with a very amused T’Challa being told, “That’s all very well and nice, but what you’re offering isn’t going to help much.” The second pays off a joke from the middle of the story.