BEWARE: SPOILER ALERTS FOR BLACK PANTHER AHEAD
I may have gone to see Black Panther twice in the span of one week after the film premiered in the Fox Theatres right here in Westwood. No, in fact, I definitely went twice, and I plan on at least seeing it in theaters one more time. And then buying it online the moment it becomes available.
Some critics, of all backgrounds and levels of expertise, have voiced how the film was “over-hyped” and how the best part was “just the music.” I highly disagree because Black Panther succeeded in what I believe it set out to accomplish: To craft and execute an innovative origin story, faithful to the comic books while integrating and subverting the action/adventure genre that has historically placed aside or minimized minorities.
A superhero’s cinematic origin story thrives when it maintains its simplicity and close-ties to the original comic books, and yet, it pays homage to its predecessors and challenges the established norms and standards. Black Panther ticks all of those boxes, and then some.
The film's characters related to the characters in the comics, and characters were not manufactured to serve a pointless plot. However, they evolved to display greater agency and purpose to the overall story. Significantly, Nakia is adapted from the comic books and is represented by a cooler, calmer character who does not retain the jealousy and immaturity she begins with in the comics.
Similarly, Erik “Killmonger” maintains his role as the primary “bad-guy” of the comic books. However, like most characters portrayed in the film by the brilliant cast, his character is shown as multi-dimensional — a ruthless killer and a young, orphaned boy who cried while cradling his father’s dead body in his arms because of a “greater purpose” invalidated into an excuse.
What really excited me were all the action genre and Avengers easter eggs that were a crucial part of why I so badly needed (and still need) to watch the film again. The fact that the final fight sequence between T’Challa and Killmonger occurs on a literal Underground railroad, the sneaky, well-appreciated reference to Back to the Future, and the intense Lion King vibes I was feeling also made me love the movie even more.
The first time I watched Black Panther I was highly confounded by a scene in which T’Challa, Nakia, and Okoye enter the underground Busan casino to intercept the predicted selling of Vibranium by Klaw. I was convinced I’d seen a similar set-up elsewhere, and when Martin Freeman’s character, Agent Ross, appeared at the gambling tables I knew exactly where. The scene echoed Skyfall in the construction of the casino, the underground nature, and the position of Ross as the exuberant agent who is usually present but is often played by a minority.
In this case, our James Bond was T’Challa, Ross was the unaware agent, and there was a drought of damsels-in-distress. Because, obviously, Nakia and Okoye could (and did) handle their own. The subversion of the scene secured the Wakandans as the ones in-charge and educated about the consequences respected the genre, and challenged perceptions of what that scene would have otherwise entailed.
Finally, although there is so much more I could say about the film, I was mesmerized by the composition of the film score that accompanied Black Panther all the way through to the credits. Kendrick Lamar altered what it means to compose and produce for film, and the overall sound production team smoothly drove the film through the music along with the vibrant imagery.
The first time I noticed this was when Killmonger takes the throne after supposedly defeating T’Challa in the ceremonial fight. The hip-hop influence mirrors Killmonger’s Oakland accent and swag, perfectly paired to set the mood for the unpredictable second half of the film. The African drumming and singing, then, transitioned the throne back to T’Challa when he, literally, comes back from the dead. The overall composition and integration of both styles of music allowed for layers in the film and convinced me of its desire to respect the comics and present a brand-new angle for action genre score.
I’m not gonna lie. I felt a burst of pride and loudly whooped in theaters when I saw the Oakland 1992 along with other hyped Bay Area people present. The severe rush of relatability and cinematic beauty reeled me in the first time I watched Black Panther.
To understand the deeper references and symbolism, to visually explore aspects of the world I missed before, and to be able to hang onto every word said, once more — that’s what drove me to the movies the second time. To re-watch what I believe marks the dawn of the next generation of superhero films and characters.