|Directed by||:||Alex Garland||Produced by||:||Scott Rudin, Andrew Macdonald||Screenplay by||:||Alex Garland||Based on||:||Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer||Starring||:||by Jeff VanderMeer, Natalie Portman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Gina Rodriguez, Tessa Thompson, Tuva Novotny, Oscar Isaac||Cinematography||:||Rob Hardy||Production company||:||Skydance Media DNA Films|
‘Black Panther’ and ‘Annihilation’ provide models for stepping up — or dropping out
This essay discusses plot points from “Black Panther” and “Annihilation.”
It’s possible, even reasonable, to have either of two wildly divergent reactions to the current state of American politics and “the discourse,” writ large. Donald Trump’s surprise win in the 2016 election has spurred a sharp and heated reaction, one filled with marches and protests and activism at virtually every level. On the other hand, the generally high level of nastiness and politicization of day-to-day life emanating from all sides on every social media platform has encouraged a number of people to step back, to disengage on a moment-to-moment time frame.
Without getting bogged down in the specifics of Trump-era politics or the wokeness wars, two new movies make eloquent cases for these diverging approaches. Ryan Coogler’s “Black Panther” is a movie-length brief for choosing engagement over isolation from the world stage, while Alex Garland’s unsettling “Annihilation” offers a powerful portrait of why someone might choose to disengage.
“Black Panther,” of course, is the latest offering from the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Well-reviewed and a monster at the box office, “Black Panther’s” Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) is one of the few interesting big-screen super-villains in recent years because you could plausibly argue that he was, in fact, correct. He may have gone a bit overboard in his desire to topple the world’s governments and replace them with people who shared his skin color — racial world war would have been an ugly, lengthy affair, regardless of Wakanda’s technological advantages — but he wasn’t wrong to look upon centuries of Wakandan apathy with disgust.
Killmonger surveyed his birth nation Wakanda’s history of quiet complacency in the face of evil — of slavers stealing Africans and shipping them across the Atlantic; of the depredations of colonialism; of warlord-engineered famine and hatred-inspired genocide taking place on its borders while King T’Chaka (John Kani) and his predecessors seemingly spent their time developing vibranium-infused tasting menus for the fortunate few in their isolated paradise — and came to realize that empire was good, actually.