Black Panther

Movie: Directed by Ryan Coogler.

Inciting Event: T’Challa undergoes the initiation ceremony—which includes battling the challenger M’Baku from a neighboring tribe—to become King of Wakanda.

Meanwhile, (seeming) American Erik Stevens robs the British Museum of History to gain a piece of Wakandan vibranium.

This movie does a great job with theme, which is reflected early in T’Challa’s section. However, it would have done better to immediately tie that theme in with the plot. The main conflict is introduced in Erik’s section, but doesn’t have a clear connection to T’Challa’s journey or even an impact on it until they finally meet much later.

First Plot Point: T’Challa visits his father in the Ancestral Plane and completes his transformation into the protector of his people. Unfortunately, this isn’t a major turning point for the plot so much as a finale for the lengthy Inciting Event scene in which he became king.

He then learns a piece of vibranium has cropped up on the black market. As his first action as king, he determines to go after it and stop it from being traded. This is more properly the first major turning point into the conflict, but it is comparatively weak compared to earlier moments in the story.

First Pinch Point: T’Challa tracks down the black marketeer Ulysses Klaue in Korea and finally captures him. Klaue eventually spills the beans to the CIA about the existence of Wakanda as a technologically advanced country with vast resources.

As a big moment in the plot, this works fine. As a pinch that emphasizes the antagonistic force, it’s pretty weak—both in that Klaue’s crazy talk about Wakanda isn’t a particularly convincing threat and also because the main antagonist—Erik—isn’t present until the very end of the scene, at which point we’re almost halfway through the movie.

Midpoint: Erik kills Klaue and infiltrates Wakanda, where he reveals he is T’Challa’s cousin—the son of the brother T’Challa’s father murdered in order to protect Wakanda’s secrecy. Erik demands Wakanda use its resources to punish the rest of the world. When T’Challa’s refuses, Erik challenges him, by right of blood, for the throne.

Now that the antagonist is in position, the rest of the structure finally comes together. This is a good Moment of Truth that forces T’Challa to confront his own presumptions about his father’s legacy and what is best for Wakanda. It also dramatically shifts the plot as Erik forces the conflict.

Second Pinch Point:  Erik defeats T’Challa in their duel, throws him over a waterfall, and assumes the throne. This is a major pinch that fulfills its every duty within the story’s structure. Unfortunately, it also signals T’Challa’s absence from the story for the next eighth of the story, right up until the Third Act.

Third Plot Point: Erik marshals Wakanda’s resources and starts sending weapons out of the country to declare war. Meanwhile, T’Challa is found and revived and returns to finish the challenge.

As in so many action-packed movies, the structure is crunched to make room for a long climactic battle. The true low moment of the movie—T’Challa’s seeming death—would more properly belong at the Third Plot Point, but has been moved up to the Second Pinch.

Instead, we get Erik’s declaration of war—which isn’t a bad Third Plot Point by any means (especially compared to others in movies of this type), but is decidedly the weaker moment of the two.

Climax: In the midst of the battle, T’Challa and Erik personally square off for their final confrontation—one that will decide not just who sits on the throne but whose worldview will triumph.

Climactic Moment: T’Challa stabs Erik, who refuses to be saved and dies watching a Wakandan sunset, just as his father once promised to show him.

Resolution: Changed by the encounter with his cousin, T’Challa determines to use Wakanda’s wealth to aid those in need around the world. He reveals the truth about his kingdom in a speech to the UN.

Notes: I liked absolutely everything about this movie—theme, characters, setting—except the plot. This is a big exception, but the movie still works relatively well thanks almost entirely to its excellent administration of a cohesive and resonant theme. Even though the antagonist is MIA for much of the movie, at least T’Challa’s personal journey is directly related to the external conflict.

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