Mission: Impossible – Fallout, or, Le Retour de Tommy C. Dans un Film d’Espionnage

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For Cinema!!!!!!!!!!!

All too often when we talk about cinema, that stuffy moniker reserved for only the finest of film, we fall back on the same few facets of the medium – writing and acting. Specifically, it seems that time and time again the films that are dubbed by the establishment and thus ingested by filmgoers as vegetables, those movies that are hearty and healthy, good for us in the long run, lean on plots and monologues. Both are certainly more than capable of profundity, but they are far from the outer limits of celluloid.

This is cinema, after all! Moving pictures! Light! Sound! To limit the heftiest cinematic discourse to film’s that excel at narrative or performance is to utterly shun the potential of the very medium and all it has to offer.

Mission: Impossible – Fallout, a film that demands the use of not a colon or a hyphen but both, is not the grandchild of Citizen Kane. It is not the spawn of The Godfather. It is the direct descendant of L’arrivée d’un train en gare de La Ciotat, those first infamous frames of a black and white train barreling ahead at an unsuspecting audience of the very first moviegoers like a bullet from an otherworldly gun. It is a film that takes full advantage of being a film.

Christopher McQuarrie, the first returning director to the Mission: Impossible franchise, has crafted a film that harkens back to the earliest days of Bond, when that franchise was a cinematic passport, taking audiences to faraway lands and showing them extraordinary things they might never otherwise see. Here, that passport is updated for transit in a world in which facsimiles of facsimiles of those places and things are a tap away in our own pocket. This is a movie that rabidly pursues spectacle at its most authentic and whole-heartedly believes in its value.

M:I-F is of distant relation to the likes of John Wick and Mad Max: Fury Road, a work of undeniable craftsmanship, of fine-tuned and purposeful movie-making. These bathroom fight scenes, these helicopter chases, these extended wind sprints are reminders of just how pigeon-holed we’ve allowed the ideals of film to become, how thinly the critical eye for quality has squinted.

Here is a style of film that we don’t get but once a year, if we’re lucky, in which calloused hands harness raw sweat into the sort of lavish exhibition only a movie can offer.

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“&” is for Cooperation, or, Ant-Man and the Wasp

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What’s he looking at over there? Wait. What’s she looking at up there? You’ll have to see the movie to find out!!!

More surprising to me than its lackluster box office haul was the feeling Solo: A Star Wars Story seemed to elicit in many reviewers that the film was “inessential.”

Huh?

Bro, they’re movies. They’re all inessential.

Yeah, yeah, I get it. Solo didn’t have star war and lightsabers and Skywalkers. Still, the idea that Solo is inherently lesser because of that is perplexing to me and I’ve yet to see it conveyed in any meaningful or convincing way.

With that in mind, I left Marvel Studios’ latest, Ant-Man and the Wasp, with the nagging feeling that the film had been… inessential. Like a regular pot.

But Ant-Man in the Wasp isn’t so much inessential as it is the direct follow up to Avengers: Infinity War, which is to say the galaxy spanning struggle of, like, twenty superheroes to stop a space warlord from committing universal genocide is followed up here less than three months later by a film that at one point involves seagulls. There’s a distinct sense of whiplash between the two films, one that is more jarring and less refreshing than the welcomed disparity between the cumbersome Avengers: Age of Ultron and the lean, original Ant-Man.

But scope aside, Ant-Man and the Wasp is a thematic follow up to Infinity War that proves itself, while still jarring, anything but inessential.

Infinity War finds its cast of heroes split across the universe, willingly or otherwise. It’s a film that sees a distinct lack of communication between its heavy hitters, even when they share the same geographic location. There are conflicting ideologies and strategies and motivations that muddy the waters of the Avengers’ common goal, and so while the heroes are not in open conflict as they are in Captain America: Civil War, they are lesser in their division, big or small, by choice or by circumstance.

So much of Ant-Man and the Wasp, down to its very title, is concerned with cooperation, with crossing aisles and uniting fronts. Here, crooks and physicists work together for a greater good, as do fallen-out old peers, the rich and poor, the brilliant and goofy. Human beings and ants.

Well, the ants seem like they might be straight-up slaves, but you know.

Ant-Man himself works alongside his ex-wife and her new husband to raise their daughter. The Wasp works aside her estranged father to search for her mother. This is a film about cooperation, about people helping and being helped. It paints a picture of an MCU in which hands, though sometimes more eagerly than others, are still extended in comradery. It’s not an Ant-Man movie. It’s not a Wasp movie. It’s all about that “and” baby.

Despite its great sense of humor and utterly badass antagonist, Ghost (played by Hannah John-Kamen), I’d be lying if I said Ant-Man and the Wasp made it any easier to wait for Avengers 4 next summer, but it’s thematic follow-up to that film has me chomping at the bit to concoct hot takes on the quadruple feature of what is shaping up to be a fascinating run of Marvel films; Infinity War, Ant-Man and the Wasp, Captain Marvel and Avengers 4.

When the dust settles on phase three of the MCU after whatever fallout awaits us in Avengers 4 it’ll be very interesting to see just how essential this brief interlude becomes.

Solo: A Star Wars Story, or, Don’t Join

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You will believe a Star Wars marketing campaign can be heavily orange.

Even before its release last week it seemed pretty clear that for better or worse Solo: A Star War Story was poised to be something of an antidote to the divisive execution and reception of The Last Jedi. Where that film ran around the party pulling any rug it could get its hands on out from under whatever unsuspecting feet it could find, the marketing for Solo seemed to suggest a film  that intended to deliver on exactly the product it was selling – a swashbuckling, hot-rod adventure in space. And deliver it did.

Whatever my feelings on the film have evolved (or devolved) into now after a holiday worth of hot takes, when I left The Last Jedi I felt conflicted and disappointed. While Solo didn’t blow my mind with a reinvention of every facet of the Star Wars universe it could get its hands on, it in no way left me feeling conflicted. To describe Solo as a film that delivers on expectations rather than defying them might give the impression that it is a lesser Star Wars film, or at least a less inspired one. On the contrary, in my own personal Star Wars canon the film has already begun to solidify its place amongst the grand narrative painting that is the Star Wars universe.

As oppositional as The Last Jedi and Solo’s filmmaking sensibilities might be, Solo actually delivers an excellent continuation and elaboration on the themes presented in its five-months-older sibling. The Last Jedi is the first Star Wars films to really lean into the idea that the seemingly ceaseless, titular star war is utterly futile and that as exciting as watching heroes and villains duke it out in space is, a majority of us aren’t heroes or villains and given the choice, there are probably a lot of space people for whom the sight of a red lightsaber or finger-lightening simply isn’t enough justification to enter into a war.

Solo is the first Star Wars movie in which there really is no war. There are no grand causes or hallowed establishments. The heroes of this film are thinking of themselves and their individual everyday survival and, crucially, the film doesn’t condemn them for that. As a movie, Solo can be seen as an extension of DJ and Finn’s exchange in The Last Jedi – “don’t join.” Moreover it also offers a glimpse into some far more pragmatic, far less glorious motivations for joining: desperation, escape, poverty.

Just as Rogue One’s Saw Gerrera showed us that not every rebel is a moral paragon, Solo shows us that not every Imperial Stormtrooper is a patriot.

Solo is equally fascinating in comparison to what is now, at least for the time being, its immediate canonical predecessor, Episode III: Revenge of the Sith. That film sees its protagonist, Anakin Skywalker, all-power war hero and force-wielding super-warrior, crushed into oblivion by the establishment, by the military-industrial complex, by the cause, by the man. Anakin, for all his power, joins. And he is utterly annihilated for drinking the Kool-Aid. Han Solo, on the other hand, has no such mystical power, he is not a war hero or Chosen One, he’s just a scrappy orphan boy armed with a modicum of cynicism. He’s not yet the sarcastic, callous smuggler we meet in the original Star Wars, but even as a youth, Alden Ehrenreich’s Han is wary of “delusions of grandeur.” Episode III gave us a protagonist doomed to fail, and in the aftermath of that sprawling failure, Solo gives us a new protagonist, the type of unaligned protagonist needed to succeed where the likes of the heralded Jedi order failed.

With that in mind, Solo serves as the most impressive fulcrum yet between not just the original trilogy and prequel trilogy, but also the two Star Wars animated series and the sequel trilogy. It is the most profound step yet towards an utterly unified, grand Star Wars canvas in which the sometimes-disjointed worlds of Kylo Ren, Jar Jar Binks, Darth Vader and Ahsoka Tano feel more unified than they ever have before.

Key to that is the believability of the likes of Ehrenreich’s Solo, Donald Glover’s Lando and Joonas Suotamo’s criminally under-recognized Chewbacca. Their performances are instantly believable in spite of the iconic shoes each is tasked with filling. This is Han Solo. This is Lando. This is Chewbacca. There is never any doubt and thus their placement and actions here reverberate into and connect with characters and events from across the Star Wars galaxy in ways that manage to feel unifying, rather than stifling, alive, rather than overly-coincidental.

Solo: A Star Wars Story isn’t going to force you to reexamine everything you’ve ever expected from a Star Wars movie. “This is going to go the way you think.” I’m not going to have to sling out hot take after hot take on this bad boy just so I can sleep at night. It didn’t leave me feeling conflicted and defensive. It left me feeling excited, it left me with story beats and background characters that still have my imagination flying like a kite (I think about Lady Proxima a lot…), and most importantly it left me wanting more.

Whatever skepticism I had going into Solo has been replaced with an impatient hope that we’ll get Solo II.

Deadpool 2, or, Good Lord I Get It He Has a Heart of Gold

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But also emotions and feelings and stuff.

To the uninitiated, dwindling though they may be, Deadpool can be a lot to take in. The goofiness. The violence. The utter disregard for the fourth wall. He’s not exactly Batman or Iron Man, and he’s so much more than a brief synopsis of his power set can communicate. The original Deadpool film knew that, both financially and narratively, and thus hedged its bets accordingly. The scope of the first film was relatively small, smartly comprised of largely a single action sequence cut up by flashbacks, and the story, for all its protagonist’s quirks, was very conventional superhero origin stock.

Deadpool eased audiences at large into the world of Wade Wilson, carefully guiding them through his transition from a charming, sassy Ryan Reynolds-type to a Looney Toon burn victim assassin. As such, it leaned on some achingly familiar tropes, presumably in an effort to make the unfamiliar a little more palatable. But that was 2016. Now, Deadpool is pretty much familiar to everyone and their grandmother. He’s Deadpool! That lovable, R-rated hybrid of Bugs Bunny and Wile E. Coyote who violently slashes and shoots his way through the world.

But Deadpool 2 still seems overly concerned with nerfing its hero, insisting on reminding us over and over again that the Merc with a Mouth is also a hero with a heart. For all the sass Deadpool slings in his all-out war on marketing, a disproportionate amount of his second movie is concerned with pathos and soul-searching and melodrama that feel like they’re present more to check a box than to elicit any real emotion from the audience. To be blunt, there’s a lot here that comes off as filler.

Now that Deadpool is a cinematic establishment unto himself I expected Deadpool 2 to offer audiences a less-traditional film for its less traditional-hero. Ryan Reynolds is still an absolute embodiment of the character and this movie is hilarious and fun, but its insistence on unnecessarily reminding the viewer that Wade Wilson is more than sass and headshots over and over again holds it back.

When it comes to Wade Wilson’s secret heart of gold, less it most definitely more.

Pit Stop After Infinity War, or, Fifty Outcomes

It’s out! It’s out! Infinity War is out! And I saw it! Twice! And now the bill has come due and I’ve got to live up to the fifty predictions I made for the film just before going into the theater opening night. I got basically everything and the stuff I didn’t correctly predict is absolutely there in the subtext, so without further adieu, enjoy how impressive I am!

 

 

SPOILERS AHEAD FOR AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1. Thor and Black Panther “King High-Five”
I mean… maybe off-screen?

2. Ebony Maw is horrifying
This is a bit of a gimme, since he was a total creep with his creepy little “shush” finger in the trailer, but whatever punks, called it!

3. Cap and Doctor Strange “Steve High-Five”
This is a sore one as not only did Cap and Doc not “Steve High-Five,” I also failed to predict that Star-Lord and Spider-Man would “Peter High-Five” and on top of that Star-Lord and Spider-Man didn’t “Peter High-Five”

4. Cull Obsidian turns to camera and says “remember when my name was Black Dwarf? Anyway, where’s Supergiant?
Look all I’m saying is I didn’t understand a word that doofus said, so I’m probably wrong, but, I mean, you don’t know

5. Tony and Doctor Strange “Facial Hair High-Five” a.k.a. “kiss”
Okay I’m “wrong” in the sense that they didn’t actually kiss, but I’m right in the sense that they actually came really, really close

6. Lando shows up
I found this blockbuster both as thought-provoking and as infuriatingly Lando-less at The Last Jedi

7. Hela lives! #goddessofdeath #Avengers4
If I’m being real, this theory was based on Hela replacing the role of Death from Infinity Gauntlet in Infinity War, but if I’m being petty… juries still out suckers!

8. Surely someone makes fun of the name Proxima Midnight
Seemed like a dead-ringer and than no one in Thanos’ Black Order, or the Black Order itself, ever got name checked, aside from Ebony Maw getting the illustrious “half-name-drop”

9. That GD soul stone is in Wakanda whether they know it or not!
Swing and a miss!

10. By the time the movie starts Thanos has already murdered Glen Close and John C. Riley
“Blah, blah, blah Xandar, blah, blah, blah last week.” -Thor. Boom.

11. Tony quips. Cut to: Thanos making “Jim” face
Tempted as I am to try and claim “Jim” face just means a purple face, I can admit when I’m wrong

12. The real Hawkeye was the friends we made along the way
Prove me wrong.

13. Bucky is very unhappy with Cap’s beard and he’s not to keen on his facial hair either
Inconclusive

14. Bucky gets to work on a jealousy beard and starts growing out his facial hair too
Slightly less inconclusive, but he’s got stubble and he certainly had a moment with that racoon!

15. Tony and Pepper already divorced
Even though they didn’t say it’s their first wedding, I’ll own up to this one

16. Red Skull has something to do with something somehow
Alright come on, this one was pretty freaking impressive

17. Vision just gets totally #*%@ed over by the whole mind stone thing
I mean, obviously, but still

18. Groot experimenting with recreation drug use, or the implication of as much
Video game addiction is a thing! But I guess it’s not a drug…

19. The Guardians’ various space-gibberish languages revealed at last!
I’m just saying I did genuinely think this would be a thing

20. Rocket bullies the shit out of Thor
Who’da thunk?

21. Scarlett Witch? She’s just kind of there
Wouldn’t ya know it, the ol’ Witch arguably had more to do than ever before. Spooky!

22. No one invites Ant-Man to the war and when he confronts everyone about it they’re all like “oh you weren’t there? We thought you were just tiny” but they didn’t, they knew
I mean… half right.

23. Justin Hammer saves the day, again
Apparently we’ll have to wait until Avengers 4 to find out… all I’m saying is, Rockwell’s got that Best Supporting Actor Heat

24. Peter Parker still a virgin
Prove me wrong, I dare you

25. Some crafty backpedaling regarding the ol’ Aether
Not a word! Just go with it I guess?

26. Joke or jokes made at the expense of Bruce Banner’s penis
Seemed reasonable at the time

27. Nobody notices Black Widow changed her hair
Boom!

28. No explanation of Thanos’ hat provided
So what? He get’s the space stone and all the sudden he doesn’t need a hat anymore? So it’s, what? A space hat? Huh? Huh?

29. Banner Hulks out in the Hulkbuster armor and is like “Hulk bust!” or some shit
Nope!

30. We find out who bought Avengers tower and it’s just sort of whoever
Nada!

31. Anthony Mackie kills it
Briefly, but I’ll take it!

32. Someone calls Rhodie “Iron Pants,” then remembers he’s disabled, and feels like a dick
But somebody probably thought it

33. Gamora stabs someone or something to death
Thanks, reality stone. More like “BS” stone, amiright? #aether

34. Nebula and Bucky “Metal Arm High-Five”
I don’t think anyone ever high-fived in this whole god-forsaken movie

35. The Outriders are way creepier on film than in LEGO
Look, those LEGOs aren’t creep at all, so, right by default

36. Someone makes fun of Thanos’ chin right to his face
Huzzah!

37. Peter Quill’s Zune has transformed him into an insufferable hipster
Mark my words, they’re holding on to this for Guardians Vol. 3

38. Nobody says anything about the Agents of SHIELD TV show and nobody cares
I said predictions, not impressive predictions

39. Nobody says anything about any of the Netflix Marvel shows and some people care for a second but then they GTFOver it
Not an immortal weapon in sight!

40. Groot in Infinity War is a third Groot and the Baby Groot from Guardians Vol. 2 died off screen and if nothing in the movie explicitly contradicts this than I’m right
Called it!

41. Wong and Thanos go way back
I’m just thinking about prequel sitcom spin-offs here

42. An Avenger gets the gauntlet, but, like, in a bad way?
Not yet anyway…

43. Dinosaurs, surely somehow dinosaurs. Or at least a shark or dragon
Sorry, you did what with the time stone? Anything but bring dinosaurs back alive? Oh, oh okay, sure. Sure, real realistic. Oh brother

44. When Thanos finally gets out of his space chair he puts his hands on his knees and goes “ooooooooooph”
Definitely offscreen though

45. Loki not happy about Cap or Bucky’s beards and he’s not to keen on their facial hair either I’m here all week
Yeah, yeah… rule of threes though!

46. All the white Avengers constantly embarrass Rhodie and Falcon in Wakanda
I mean… didn’t they though? Just in a not funny way?

47. Thor is missing an eye and I’m pretty sure Rocket and Groot stole an eye from the Ravagers and I’m just saying this specific prediction is actually cool and good!
I mean, c’mon! Pretty, pretty, pretty impressive. Maybe not a Ravager, maybe. But c’mon. This should count for all 50

48. Nick Fury finds a way to creep out of a dark corridor even though everyone’s on, like, $&@#ing Pluto
Nope, he just creeps out of the dark and into our hearts and souls in this one

49. Someone acknowledges Mantis
Mantis actually had, like, stuff to do in this movie!

50. Thanos is at least 38
Inconclusive, but you sure as shit ain’t going to convince me he’s 37

 

Come back next year for, I don’t know, like 100 predictions for Avengers 4? Maybe some Ant-Man & the Wasps predictions in July? This is so much easier than baking hot takes.

The Mauve Knight, or, Avengers: Infinity War

There aren’t any specific spoilers for Infinity War below, but if I hadn’t seen the film I wouldn’t read it. You can check out some of my pre-viewing predictions for the movie, which I’ll be returning to on Monday to grade for correctness in a separate post, here.

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CHIN ATTACK

Watching the 18 preceeding Marvel films before going into Avengers: Infinity War gave me an appreciation for the myriad character narratives that wind throughout the franchise, with huge developments often happening for characters in movies that don’t even bare their name. For instance, some of the most compelling moments in Iron Man’s development throughout the MCU have been in the likes of Avengers: Age of Ultron, Captain America: Civil War and Spider-Man: Homecoming. Black Panther has a huge moment of clarity in Civil War. Black Widow has an arc all her own despite never having an eponymous film. You never know how consequential any given Marvel film will be for any given Marvel character, and so going into Infinity War I was very curious what it would contribute to some of these individual characters’ narratives, what this chapter would mean in the book of Iron Man, or Black Panther, or Captain America.

I was pretty surprised when the answer was, sort of, kind of, not a lot. That’s not a barometer for the quality of the film, mind you, and it isn’t to say that consequential things don’t happen, but there aren’t a dearth of defining character beats for our heroes. There are simply so many that no one Avenger has a particularly verbose arc. I thought there’d be more Cap. More T’Challa. More Tony. And despite loving the film, I found myself wondering who exactly it was about.

But that’s actually pretty obvious.

Avengers: Infinity War could have just as easily, and more aptly, been dubbed Thanos: Infinity War, because Josh Brolin’s Mad Titan is the protagonist of the film.

In The Last Jedi (don’t worry I promise I don’t have another hot take) Supreme Leader Snoke makes a comment to Kylo Ren bemoaning the existence of hope. Not hope in the Jedi, or hope in the Resistance. Just straight up hope. It’s an exchange that drives me bananas because it rings so flat and so dull, because it is such an utterly villainous sentiment, as if Snoke is going out of his way to be a villain. It’s a sentiment that makes it seem like Snoke is not only a villain to our heroes, but a villain to himself, as if he is primed and ready to unironically grab the mic and announced “well my name’s rappin’ Snoke and I’m here to say it’s fun to rap in an evil way.”

Thanos, inversely, is no such arch-villain. In fact he’s not entirely dissimilar to Tony Stark. Both operate under the assumption that they have been, as Loki would say, “burdened with glorious purpose.” They have lofty, conceptual ideas of morality and salvation and equally lofty, conceptual notions for achieving those ends. There are certainly parallels of egomaniacal do-goodery between Thanos’ Infinity Gauntlet and Stark’s Ultron program.

Part of what makes Thanos’ pursuit so compelling, what makes him a perverse, distorted protagonist (not hero, mind you), is that it doesn’t seem like he even necessarily wants to be doing what he’s doing. He’s possessed by the notion that controlled destruction is the only way to save life from utter annihilation and that he, like a great cosmic martyr, will foot the bill of that heinous but necessary sin on his own soul for the good of life itself. He seeks to save life from itself at his own expense.

There is no time then, to plumb the depths of the likes of Tony and Steve and T’Challa once more, because if Thanos is the protagonist of Infinity War, the antagonist is the entirety of the Marvel Cinematic Universe as we know it. Every one of the heroes in this movie has run deep in some previous film and thus, at least so far as the long term Marvel audience is concerned, they do not need to here. Here, in Thanos’ story, their purpose is to be short-sighted, to lack the will and purpose to make the sort of sacrifices the film’s true protagonist is prepared to demand of himself, to lack scope beyond themselves in space and time. They’re henchmen, the lot of them. Obstacles. And to see them relegated to as much before Thanos is frightening and distressing, all the more so because Thanos is our twisted protagonist.

How do you bring together twenty-something protagonists from six or so separate film series? You flip the script and dare them all to stop one protagonist from acquiring the dopest MacGuffin ever. If this were the last film in Marvel’s phase three I’d be unhappy, but as the penultimate chapter before much of the MCU’s inaugural class purportedly graduates, Infinity War upends the MCU in exciting ways with a villain whose six-year build up does not disappoint.

Road to Infinity War – Black Panther, or, A New Hope

Oh dear God I’m done! I did it. This is the last one. Every freaking day for two and a half weeks. Wake up. Go to work. Come home. Bleed hot takes on every Marvel film onto the page! And at last, started with Iron Man and now I’m back here! Writing about Black Panther! Just like I did when it came out! Like two months ago! Anyway, I did it fam. In preparation for my viewing of Avengers: Infinity War on April 26th at 7PM, I went back and rewatched the previous 18 films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, from Iron Man to Black Panther. Every day leading up to Infinity War I’ll be posting a short piece on each film and my most recent hot takes on nearly a decade of the MCU. I’ll also be linking back to whatever old nonsense I wrote about the movies at the time, if applicable. And if that isn’t enough, check out my ranked listed of the MCU to date on my Letterboxd account here.

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I’m mistaken. It has been more than two months since the last Marvel film. Maybe there aren’t enough superhero movies?

In many ways, Black Panther is the final piece of the puzzle that Thanos is going to punch the shit out of in, like, twelve hours. The final component of the status quo, clicked into place just before the whole thing is utterly upended, bringing together many of the themes from across Marvel’s third phase of films.

Hot on the heels of Thor: Ragnarok, which saw the God of Thunder ascend to a position he had adopted a healthy wariness of, Black Panther shows us just how well-placed that wariness is as T’Challa takes up the mantle of King of Wakanda and all the headaches that position entails. That T’Challa is in such a position of power at this point in the MCU is compelling because throughout Marvel’s phase three those in power, mentors, predecessors and the like, have continually let down our heroes, be it Odin or the Ancient One withholding secret histories from Thor and Doctor Strange, or Tony Stark just not listening to little old Peter. Even T’Challa is let down by his predecessors. But only T’Challa is given the opportunity to fully wield the same position of power that has let him down.

Luckily for Wakanda, T’Challa possesses a skillset that offers a glimpse of hope for the MCU in spite of the disillusionment so many of its heroes have faced of late after the likes of Civil War and Ragnarok. As Jack Donaghy would say of any Phil Collins fan, T’Challa’s “got two ears and a heart.”

He listens. In an era within the MCU when listening and discourse fail on a global scale, they thrive in T’Challa. At the climax of Civil War, when Cap and Tony are locked in conflict beyond words and reason, T’Challa actively makes the choice to step back and listen. Literally, physically he steps away from the situation, listens and in doing so is able to reassess and rise above the machinations in play.

We watch him learn this lesson in Civil War and we see him continue to heed this lesson in Black Panther, which benefits not only T’Challa and Wakanda, but the film itself, as well as its many excellent characters. Tasked with ruling, T’Challa listens. He listens to his sister, his mother, his spy, his general, his friend, his enemy. Part of the reason Black Panther is so spectacular is T’Challa, and thus the film itself, takes the time to listen to its characters, and hearing their thoughts, ideas and fears breathes life into them and their world.

Black Panther rightfully, tactfully avoids smothering itself in the shadow of Infinity War, but as an audience member in the real world, knowing Thanos looms ahead lent a potency to the events of the film because at a time when the Avengers have been so utterly disassembled, Black Panther gives the MCU hope in a hero who rises above ideological differences, who overcomes disillusionment, who first listens, then considers and then kicks ass. Black Panther’s placement just before Infinity War is a statement that perhaps Thanos will destroy the Avengers, but the recurring themes of antagonism that have dogged our heroes thus far will not.

For some thoughts on the worldbuilding in Black Panther you can dust off this old hot take from, like, 50 days ago:

February 26, 2018: A Different Kind of Worldbuilding, or, Black Panther

I’m done! I’m a champion!