For those who follow a lot of YouTube writing channels you might have noticed a series this week put out by its top influencers titled “One Marvelous Scene.”
Much like how Nick Fury did at the end of “Iron Man,” in preparation for this weekend’s “Endgame” (EEEEEEEEeeee!!!) the channel Nando v. Movies tasked several other channels in doing a video about their favorite/most thought-provoking scene in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. This “One Marvelous Scene” could be anything from the iconic “I’m always angry” line from Bruce Banner in Avengers to an analysis of Captain America and the larger use of military ads within the series.
(Seriously, this is a little troubling when you think about it…)
Though I was, unfortunately, not called on to be apart of the writing Avengers (#sadface), the series did make me think about what scene has stood out the most to me in this series which now spans 22 movies (24 by the end of the year). Was it Cap’s iconic “I can do this all day line” that changed my perception of the character forever, Thanos’s epic entrance in “Infinity War,” or Cap and Bucky’s emotionally charged battle with Iron Man in “Civil War?”
The scene that has stood out to me the most remains the only moment in any of these films where I almost cried (manly tears, damn it!) and that scene is Erik Killmonger’s journey to the Ancestral Plane in “Black Panther.”
The Ancestral Plain is my favorite setting in this film by a wide margin. It highlights a very spiritual and unique space in the MCU canon and contains the movie’s most emotionally charged moments. T’Challa’s own journeys into this realm are, by themselves, great scenes I considered choosing for this write-up as they highlight the arc of the character in his feelings toward his father and lineage. But Killmonger’s journey is especially powerful and shows why he’s regarded, by many, as the series most compelling villain.
(With all due respect to the Mad Titan of course. I’m speaking of course of Josh Brolin.)
The main theme of this story, to quote another famous Marvel character, quite clearly is “With great power, comes great responsibility.” In this case Wakanda has tremendous power, wealth and influence but they have chosen to hoard it and keep secret from the rest of the world. This negligence is highlighted first by Nakia earlier in the movie explaining how Wakanda can do so much more with the resources they wield but T’Challa chooses not to intervene because of “traditions.”
Erik’s arrival and subsequent takeover of the kingdom of Wakanda shows how that isolationism can have consequences. Erik is right to call out this kingdom’s hypocrisy and if this were any other type of movie he might’ve even been the main character in this story. Think about it: a prince rightfully points out injustice in a society, he is then killed without trial by his brother, his son then raise himself into the perfect warrior so that he may exact retribution and correct this flaw within the kingdom. Doesn’t that like the beginnings of a hero’s journey?
(Menacing rap theme music intensifies)
But it’s when he ventures to the ancestral plain that we really see the depth of this cruelty and the tragedy of how this society turned its back on one of its own. We see Erik revert back to being a child in this journey and see’s his father once more. This is an important because it shows how Erik once was, innocent, and through this we begin to understand just how far his fall has been and all because of one selfish, apathetic, irresponsible action.
When Erik’s dad asks him “no tears for me?” and he responds “Everybody dies. It’s just life around here” it becomes quite clear just how cruel it was for T’Challa’s father to leave him behind. The king, who T’Challa looked up to and admired, left a boy to fend for himself in a harsh world, with no one to help or guide him and for all intents and purposes appeared to never even attempt to go back and check in on him. And this wasn’t just any child; this was a blood relative, his nephew and he essentially left him to fend for himself because he wasn’t “one of them.” The creation of Erik Killmonger was entirely avoidable and yet it happened because Wakanda’s king wielded his privilege and influence of his kingdom irresponsibly all in the name of “tradition.”
In this way the film brilliantly highlights, especially later on when T’Challa returns to the ancestral plain, how king T’Chaka is the real villain of this film. When T’Challa tells his father and the rest of the former kings that they’re all wrong for turning their backs on the rest of the world it truly sends the message home how when you’re given a great power it is your responsibility to help others with it. Combine this genuine moment with Ludwig Gorransson’s Oscar winning score playing in the background and it’s hard not to get a little choked up during this tragic moment.
(Finally! An original soundtrack worth purchasing from the MCU!)
Contrary to popular belief, villains aren’t born villains in the real world; nobody comes out of the womb an evil, vindictive person. Evil people are created, often by even the most well-intentioned of people through negligence, cruelty and apathy. There’s a reason why MLK many decades ago said he feared “white moderates” more than he did the actual racists. It’s because those folks chose to turn their backs instead of using their privilege to help because it was convenient, much in the way T’Chaka did.
In a series that has largely chosen to cheapen most of its sincere drama with quips and bad jokes, this scene was a tremendous breath of fresh air for me when I saw it the first time. If this scene had been directed by almost anyone else in the MCU chances are there would’ve been at least one reference joke in here somewhere (“Ancestral Plane? Like am I going to see a Force Ghost or something? Derherherher.”) The emotional impact of this scene hit’s you like a sledgehammer when Erik’s dad says “No tears for me?” and thank Bast director Ryan Coogler didn’t try force in any bathos for cheap laughs.
(If you need a primer on what bathos means watch this great video by “Just Write”)
The MCU has done a better job in recent outings (mostly) with creating genuine moments of drama but at times still feels like they can’t help themselves. I want the MCU to be less afraid of itself in that way. We care about these characters and their stories; we don’t need a pop culture reference every minute to keep us invested in the story.
These films, space cowboys and spandex super heroes and all, can be so much deeper than the MCU allows it to be. “Thor: Ragnarok” is basically the same story as “Black Panther”; A soon to be king learns that his father wasn’t exactly the man he thought he was, a long-lost relative comes to usurp his throne and through this learns to be a better king and leader. The only real difference (besides the setting and characters used) “Black Panther” is sincere in its dialogue and doesn’t shy away from the tougher subjects.
(We get it, it’s funny but c’mon…)
The Ancestral Plain is a powerful setting in “Black Panther” that helps complete arcs for its characters but its through Erik’s journey do we begin to understand the film’s main message. It’s a tragic scene and one that still sticks with me each time I watch the film and, in this day, and age we currently reside in in this world it feels very relevant as well. It’s one of the main reasons why “Black Panther” remains my favorite MCU flick to date and overall one of my favorite movies of the decade.
So While “Endgame” will certainly dominate at the box office this summer and more than likely be a huge crowd-pleaser I do hope that the MCU learns from this film as it travels into its new future. “Black Panther” showed you can tell one of these Marvel stories without adding a punchline in every minute and still be a huge success. Hopefully future films in this series understand this lesson too.
Glory to Bast. Wakanda forever. This is One Marvelous Scene.