Black Panther played at the Arclight in Hollywood this past Tuesday night and I was lucky enough to see it. Actually, “lucky” doesn’t even begin to describe the privilege of being able to see such a film before it hits the masses. It was almost the same feeling I had when watching Wonder Woman. I knew, in that moment, that I was watching a piece of history. Something that would be talked about for years to come. Black Panther needed to be made, just like Wonder Woman needed to be made, but instead of just fulfilling a need and checking off a box, it did so much more than that. It taught me things, reminded me of the preciousness of life, and gave me the motivation to be a better person. I’m not a superhero movie aficionado, but I’ve seen my fair share. Enough to know that this one really sets the bar. In more ways than one. Below is the trailer. You’ve probably already seen it. Even if you have, it’s worth another peek, especially since this is the extended version, laying down a lot more of the puzzle pieces than the initial cut.
It does its job. It sets up some of the conflicts in the movie without really giving anything away. In fact, I thought it was going to be a completely different movie. I thought it was going to be like all the other superhero movies. You know… super action-packed, high-adrenaline fight scenes that last a little longer than they need to, epic explosions, over-emotional moments, borderline wonky special effects and some ridiculous, cheesy dialogue (but that’s okay because that’s part of their charm). To put it short, I don’t expect much out of superhero movies. I like them, I’ve watched several of them more than once, but I’ve never purchased a Blu-Ray, and never really cared about watching any Behind the Scenes features. But Black Panther is different. It could have been cheesy, and maybe a couple minor moments were, but it was self-aware. Aggressive, yet gentle. Motivating and gut-wrenching at the same time. I laughed, I cried and I couldn’t wait for the drive home so I could listen to the soundtrack again. Windows down, volume up, head bopping and hair swaying in the wind, which leads me to why we’re here. There were five things that really stood out to me when taking in this film for the first time. I don’t want to give anything away, so I’ll keep it short, but do yourself a favor and get tickets ASAP, because you’re going to want to join the conversation.
First of all, the music is great. The way I prep for seeing a movie is by listening to the soundtrack. I like to be somewhat familiar with the music so I can get that extra level of meaning out of a scene. I’m not always into every song on an album, but the Black Panther soundtrack is an anomaly. From Kendrick Lamar and 2 Chainz to James Blake and Jorja Smith, it’s heavily weighted with themes of identity and purpose. It also serves as an experience in and of itself. Yes, listening to the soundtrack before seeing the movie definitely elevates the movie experience, in my opinion, but it’s so well curated and produced that it really does stand well on its own. Listening to it again now, after seeing the movie, I’m reminded of moments in the movie when certain tracks were playing. But since the songs themselves are so strong, the music speaks to me in a different, deeper way than the film could ever express on its own. Many people underestimate the power of a good soundtrack. But really, it’s an extension of the movie that is absolutely necessary and Black Panther‘s hits it out of the park.
Without giving anything away, the story is something that really took me by surprise. Like I said above, I thought this was going to be a completely different movie. In superhero movies, there are obvious villains and obvious heroes, but in Black Panther, the world isn’t as black and white as some would expect. The story transforms beyond the typical hero vs villain and anyone with an ounce of empathy can completely understand both sides. You’d be hard-pressed to find a moment in this film you couldn’t relate to. I can’t speak to all of the nuances that reflect black culture and comment on what it’s like to be a person of color in the world today, but what I can tell you is that, regardless of skin color, if you can’t relate to this film in any way, then you understand nothing about the human experience. And you should probably watch it again, opening your eyes and heart a little bit wider next time. It truly spoke to me. About hope and perseverance, yes, but mostly about forgiveness — the kind that sets you free.
While other superhero movies stand out with their cheesy dialogue, Black Panther approaches it in a smart way. Never being too overdramatic, only really matching the level of intensity and every now and then throwing in a funny quip that doesn’t take you out of the movie, but provides just enough comic relief as to not burn out your frontal lobe with intensity. It’s an intense movie. And even though there’s a romance, it’s always in the hands and power of the woman. The dialogue awarded to the women of this film is elevated and unapologetic. The amount of women speaking with authority and delivering justice makes this more of a feminist film than Wonder Woman was for me. Sure, a King rules Wakanda, but the Black Panther would be nothing without the strong women in his life who hold him to higher standards than he holds himself.
Unfortunately, there were a few moments when it felt like I was watching actors play a role, but for the most part, I felt like I was actually watching these characters live their lives. Every single emotion I saw on screen was real. The tears were real. The amusement was real. The anger was real. No one was out of their league and everyone played their part. The family dynamics felt real and even the Black Panther suits were so well designed and animated that they felt like they had personality. Not as much as Iron Man‘s suit, but close. The looks that Okoye (Danai Gurira) give absolutely slay — saying in one look, everything that needs to be said.
Fast cars, fast punches, fast edits. They were quick enough to give me an adrenaline rush, also thanks to the great music, but steady and slow enough that I could appreciate the spectacle of every scene. Editing creates a rhythm and it’s the final checkpoint—the place where many final decisions are made. Should we keep this? Can we lose it? How many seconds can we trim from this scene? Is this scene even necessary? It was rumored that the first cut of Black Panther was four hours long. As great as a movie as it was, four hours seems a little unnecessary, but I guess it could have benefitted from going a little more in-depth with some of the characters. The only issue I had was when a couple of women are heading into a major fight, and they’re grabbing their armor before they head out. What seems like only moments later, is them entering the fight, but with full face paint and makeup on. It was the only moment I was pulled out of the movie, because I couldn’t stop thinking, “How the hell did she get all that intricate makeup on so fast?” Clearly, the most important plot hole that needs to be addressed…
Honestly, I can’t wait to go back again and watch it this weekend. It’s one thing to be one of the first to see it, among a bunch of media and industry folk, but it’s an entirely different beast when seeing it with the general public. The energy is different, the expectations are different, but most of all, the reactions are different, especially in a packed theater on opening weekend. They’re unencumbered by the pressure to maintain themselves and appear professional. They shout at the screen like sports fans during a big game, responding to the dialogue, the subtle looks given and the plot twists. This isn’t to say there weren’t any audience reactions on Tuesday night, but they were definitely muted in comparison. So much can be said about Black Panther, but I’ll let you discover that on your own. And if you want to help underprivileged youth see something that will inspire them and perhaps change their lives for the better, consider donating to the #BlackPantherChallenge.
Images via Marvel Studios and Collider.