Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is the first movie in a long time that I’ve seen twice in theaters. The reason I did so had a lot to do with the performance of Tenoch Huerta (Namor) and the depiction of the people of Telokan.
It made me feel a sense of pride in Namor and what he believed he had to do to preserve his culture, combined with a beautiful and sometimes tragic depiction of a people who well know what its like to have their way of life violently torn from them.
Plus, ankle wings.
But what does that have to do with American Carnage?
Mainly that I was expecting a similar feeling; some sense of a people under siege, who end up doing whatever they have to to survive, only in a Purge-like context.
And while it never reached that level of intensity, it seemed to be on that path when we meet JP (Jorge Lindeborg Jr.), a Latino who works at a fast food joint (which is very relevant to the plot and where the movie takes a Get Out-type turn when the situation becomes clear, around the third act).
JP is at the center of the movie, though throughout Lindeborg seems way too happy, even when probably he shouldn’t be.
This lack of any sense of discontent undermines the narrative because JP apparently has no idea that way too many people hold fast food workers in contempt (which is weird because those same people don’t seem to have an issue with eating fast food, only with the people that serve it to them) even when two guys harass him at the fast food window while he’s taking their order.
This sense of disconnectedness is compounded when we meet JP’s family and learn they don’t even speak Spanish at home, other than the occasional word.
This is where subtitles should have been used, anything that could help to establish a feeling of culture and shared belief. This is crucial because being Latino isn’t a racial trait, it’s a culture, a language, a way of living. Remove those elements – or sparsely use them if at all, as is the case with American Carnage – and your movie starts to feel very generic and could be about any group.
And like The Purge, eventually government swoops in and rounds up all Latinos, taking them to various camps (events unfold on the West Coast – I think) though it wasn’t clear to me if what was happening was on a national level.
In any case, the movie Diego Hallivis really wanted to make wasn’t The Purge, but Get Out though a sense of otherness, of Latino-ness would be essential to that story as well, but since it isn’t there to any real extent, the shift in the emphasis of the movie is interesting but never quite resonates.
American Carnage isn’t terrible by any stretch though it just doesn’t take itself seriously enough, which means no one else is likely to as well.