Black Panther Dethrones Toy Fair

I went to Wakanda with The Wages of Cinema to visit Black Panther! My kitty’s mad I saw it without her. This I know from speaking the universal language of Espurranto. (I should start calling her Snuggletooth.) Let’s dive right off Warrior Falls into SPOILERS. If you’ve not seen it yet, skip even further down to the tilde for Toy Fair 2018 SPOILERS!

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How come both jungle & house cats can climb trees, but only the small ones need to be saved from them?

It took Marvel Studios a long time to get to Black Panther because they didn’t want to screw up Wakanda. (This also why it took WB decades to film Themiscyria.) Although it was invented by two Ashkenazi in the 60’s (which may explain why T’Challa is almost bread), director Ryan Coogler (who co-wrote it with Joe Robert Cole) captures the essence of it as a modern Afrofuturist utopia. He peoples it with a an stellar cast that make it feel like a real place. This is more serious than the three movies Marvel Studios made last year, but the intermittent levity feels natural. The colors are pretty & the action kinetic! Overall, it’s better than the adaptation Wesley Snipes tried to make in the 90’s probably would’ve been. It’s the live action The Lion King update that actually has its own intrinsic merits.

Black Panther was the best part of the last Captain America, & he’s capable of headling his own film. Chadwick Boseman embodies him as well as Chris Evans does Cap. He’s earnest without being stiff. His supporting cast are equally excellent. My favorite scene stealers are Letitia Wright as playful prodigy sister Shuri & Winston Duke as the surprisingly charismatic M’Baku. Lupita Nyong’o’s Nakia is the nation’s 007 with the best approach to international relationships since it’s rooted in empathy. Silver-locked Queen Angela Bassett rubs it in how badly Fox failed Storm just by showing up. At one point Danai Gurira Okoye was going to be implicitly besotted with another Dora Milaje, but the movie changed her vague lover to Daniel Kaluuya’s W’Kabi to give the divided loyalty subplot a smidgen more nuance. Of course the traitorous border patrol captain didn’t need to be a dude for the lover’s quarrel to work. They made Everett Ross, the Emperor of Useless White Boys, useful beyond exposition! Having too many compelling characters is a good problem to have.

Whenever Marvel introduces a secret kingdom (see Thor, not Inhumans), there’s always usurper kin with legitimate grievances & expansionist aims.  (Coincidentally Killmonger & Loki share a birthday.) It’s not a novel set-up, but it’s executed well thanks to relatable real life politics. Killmonger’s tragic origin causes T’Challa to reconsider his view of his father. Killmonger’s aims (along with those of the less militant Nakia) motivate him to change his country’s international policy. The film does a great job establishing why the former policy was highly problematic. (It wisely sidesteps comics fun fact that Wakanda is hoarding a cure for cancer.) It doesn’t look like T’Challa will be shirking his responsibilities to gallivant with the Avengers as often occurs in the source material.

T’Challa’s & Nakia’s romance is handled with the right amount of understatement.  Boseman & Nyong’o have enough chemistry that they can show it without having to derail the plot. Unlike the inert Okoye & W’Kabi pairing, it doesn’t feel tacked on either. I do want to see their relationship further developed in successive films. Don’t bunt on this like you always do, Marvel!

The movie fills in some gaps to tether the fantasy. Klaue was able to steal Vibranium thanks to info from Killmonger’s dad, whose doomed plan was to use it to intercede during the 1992 LA riots. (Did King T’Chaka intentionally give his brother an awful espionage posting?) Wakanda isn’t completely shut off from the world thanks to a network of international spies. (Are the glowing marks inside their mouths tattoos or resulting from of generations of Vibranium exposure?) Although isolation has kept it safe from the ravages of colonialism, it’s something of a political powder keg with a stir crazy army. It does not explain what sort of economy it has given its abundant natural resources combined with no foreign trade, yet it’s presumably Wakommunist Corporatist.

Wakanda really ought to abolish trial by combat as the key to absolute monarchy. The rest of the world is so lucky Wakanda never had a bellicose ruler before! T’Challa gets stabbed in the tummy & tossed off a mountain, which is definitely fatal outside of (Green) Arrow & The 100.

Thanks to Killmonger, now we know why they didn’t give T’challa gold trim. (I’ve seen it been called the Golden Jaguar suit despite them not being native to Africa & the base color remaining black.) At least him being another evil doppelganger has more comics precedence than Ant-Man’s Yellowjacket. (Should you randomly decide to ship them, Killmonger + Killgrave = Gravemonger.) Michael B. Jordan’s spiffy-haired character (who uses the Victor Zsasz method of score keeping) alternately speaks in grandiose political manifestos & cavalier slang. He’s kind of like if Tumblr was a supervillain. That means he has much more depth than the average one-off foe.

Making his long awaited return since Age Of Ultron, Andy Serkis’s Ulysses Klaue is more interesting than comics’ Klaw. They cruelly tease his mixtape without playing it for us, though he does sing briefly. His personality combined with Klaw’s powers would make for one of the MCU’s best villains. Sadly he’s slain by Killmonger as his ticket into Wakanda’s good graces. Klaue does get his literal hand cannon, but he doesn’t transform into a being of pure sonic energy. Now that would’ve presented a unique threat! Why would you cast Serkis as a character ideally suited to mo-cap without letting him play a mo-cap character? This was my biggest gripe.

Versatile Vibranium acts like magic but it comes from space so apparently that makes it okay. The Vibranium infused panther suits are particularly nifty. Despite armored rhinos, the climax isn’t quite as superlative as the car chase to end all car chases. Did the Wakandans collect all the scrapped Vibranium from that, or is this oversight going to come back to bite them in the sequel? Thankfully there wasn’t an Infinity Stone shoehorned in. Infinity War, however, will probably retcon The Heart-Shaped Herb’s (you’d think they would’ve given it a name by now) connection to the afterlife as tied into the Soul Gem.

This is set a week after Civil War, so where are the war criminal Avengers to whom T’Challa granted asylum? I’m glad they don’t steal the spotlight from him & his supporting cast, but it is odd that there’s no explanation why he doesn’t enlist their aid to thwart the coup. Plus it’s a missed opportunity to have two Human Torches share a scene. One of the stingers does have Bucky being called White Wolf, who is usually a different character. (It doesn’t seem like he’ll be getting a Sara Lance-ish costume change to match the name.)

The other stinger has T’Challa announcing an end to Wakanda’s isolationist policy to the United Nations. Like the final pre-credits scene, it cuts off just after someone ignorant of Wakanda asks him a question the audience already knows the answer to. It’s two scenes of T’Challa promising to get more involved on different scales. I don’t know why they ended on the same beat twice in a row. It’s not that any of these denouements are bad scenes; they’re just more subdued than I’m accustomed to. The movie is so good even my nitpicks underwhelm me.

I liked the movie as a stand alone, but I’m concerned how they’ll do sequels once it rakes in all the money it deserves. It’s already burnt through his top three enemies. (It also contains an unlikely potential fourth foe.) Killmonger & Klaue could’ve been recurring antagonists, but now both are unambiguously dead. M’Baku becomes an ally, so making him a villain would be a step backwards. (People always focus on his supranym, Man-Ape, sounding racist but not on his contribution to Furry representation.) Coogler couldn’t use Kraven this time, but he doesn’t seem like he’d present that novel a threat. Government sponsored Suicide Squad Thunderbolts sent on a preemptive strike could be worthy, but Marvel hasn’t kept enough supervillains alive to form it. Maybe Marvel will finally get the Namor rights sorted out to do an Atlantis vs. Wakanda film?

Wakanda has giant rhinoceroses, yet the sacred black leopards & white gorillas are no where to be seen? (Ditto the giant transforming mech panther Hasbro promised.) I can understand the Panther Goddess being Bast, but why does M’baku invoke Hanuman since his tribe appears to be the most isolationist of the whole country? Wouldn’t Thoth make more sense as a Simian Deity from the same continent?

Ruth Carter’s costumes are gorgeous! Give her all the costuming Academy Awards! They’re a breath of fresh air given the majority of futuristic sci-fi films dress their characters in the same sort of conventional contemporary clothes. (It is odd that Wakanda’s fashion would take inspiration from all across the continent when it’s notoriously anti-social. I guess that’s where spies come in handy.) The costumes are so wonderful, I’d be tempted to buy toys of background extras.

It’s a pity that half of Black Panther’s Marvel Legends wave are tangentially related comic based Caucasian characters that could’ve stood out less in a different assortment. (The white guy who is directly relevant to Black Panther, Klaw, is exclusive to a Toys R Us 2-pack with Shuri wearing a recycled X-Men belt.) At best, they stretch the line’s royal theme with the umpteenth Iron Man, who is at least not a repaint. At worst, it looks like Hasbro didn’t have faith a line of purely BP characters would sell. Mixing movie & comic characters together is rarely ideal, but this seems exceptionally tone deaf. I kind of wish Nakia was made in a green outfit. It’s crazy there’s neither a comics nor cinematic M’Baku yet!

I’m mad movie Shuri is only available as a basic figure not a Marvel Legends. If it was to save costs, wouldn’t it have made sense to replace her with a basic version of Nakia instead of making a whole new sculpt? Shouldn’t all the exclusive characters be in the pricier line as a gateway drug?

So back to actual movie, Black Panther lived up to the hype. Wakanda forever! Wakanda Forever will be the third movie’s subtitle wherein Black Panther’s costume will finally be upgraded with nipples. Wakanda …. FOREVERRRRR!!!!!

 As I feared, DC Collectibles had no CW TV toys at Toy Fair 2018. Diamond Select didn’t have any Gotham figures either.  For the second year in a row, Mattel had the best selection of DC characters, although none excited me that much. I’d be much more excited about that Batman Returns Penguin if NECA was scaling down its. (Meanwhile NECA didn’t have any Alien Resurrection figures to wow me.) Do better at SDCC! Is a Lara Croft Barbie the only toy Alicia Vikander’s Tomb Raider reboot is going to get?

Tenth Anniversary MCU figures have a higher MSRP than usual & some are exclusives, but they’re  pumping out most of my wishlist! I kind of feel bad for everybody that bought that entire ML series of repaints for a less accurate Hulkbuster BAF. They’re even doing a Pepper Potts. I’m disappointed unmasked Killmonger is just a repaint instead of the tactical suit with the mask that reminds me of Velasca’s.

Most importantly, Sauron is finally coming as a BAF for a Deadpool assortment (that I’m not particularly interested in otherwise)! They’ve only been taunting me with him for three years. I may have to slice off its modern teeth to keep it classic. He’s fought Deadpool exactly once in the comics, so go ahead & make Sauron the Big Bad of Deadpool 3: Wolverine Has Risen From The Grave!

Star Wars Black has a terrible ratio of pegwarmers I don’t want to those I do that I never find in stores. Hopefully this won’t be a problem for the Target exclusive Gamorrean Guard. I don’t recall Holdo’s dress being this mauve, but I don’t mind her looking more like classic Psylocke. These Star Wars skeletons are unexpectedly intriguing.

So it looks like Hasbro won Toy Fair 2018. With the array of product they’re releasing this year, how can anyone be a completionist? I’m going to need to become a successful author this year just to afford the ones I want. More likely, I’ll resort to crime.

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’s season finale being interrupted mid-song by WPIX 11 for fifteen minutes of non-news is the opposite of the feeling I got from watching Black Panther.

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