Exciting isn’t the right word for Ryan Coogler’s movie “Black Panther,” it feels bigger somehow, more important. Maybe the best and most important aspect of this movie is everything surrounding it. Usually when people start whispering about a movie months in advance, it almost certainly foreshadows disappointment. With “Black Panther” however, the whispers surrounding the movie (which, by the night of the movie’s first Atlanta screening at the Fox Theatre on Feb. 7, had turned into excited shouts and unabashed singing) was half the joy in seeing it.
Even before the movie started, one line to enter the screening was wrapped around the side of the building while the other ran three blocks down the other side. Walking down the line there was a myriad of African shirts, dresses and head wear. People were singing and Snapchat-ing videos narrating where they were. Strangers were talking, reveling in each other’s excitement.
Before I go any further I should add, I do not usually like superhero/comic book movies. I find them trite and quite frankly, I tend to zone out during the action sequences (a guy kicking another guy hard — because it almost always is a guy — and making a sharp turn in a fast car). I say this because I didn’t feel exactly that way during “Black Panther.”
This was in large part due to the movie itself being so well-written. The plot allows for a lot of character development. For instance, Michael B. Jordan’s character, Erik Killmonger, the antagonist, is more complex than many villains are allowed to be. Instead of a sad backstory lazily inserted for some faux depth, Killmonger’s story feels understandable and relatable. Possibly too much so, as I found myself rooting for him more often than I found myself rooting for the protagonist T’Challa (a.k.a. Black Panther).
Black Panther himself, judging solely from this movie, feels the least developed of all the characters. Maybe the appeal in superheroes is that they act with an unwavering moral compass and a strong conviction in good and bad. But for someone who isn’t a superhero fan, I prefer a bit more complexity and room to grapple with my protagonists and their decisions.
The plot, though full of action (spoiler alert: a guy kicking another guy and making a sharp turn in a fast car) and laden with the “underdog saves the day” plot line, is still suspenseful and surprisingly funny. The computer animation and visual effects of the film are also the highlights of this film. Not only does it all look very real, it’s beautiful, and futuristic. There are many scenes that are so vibrant with color and depth that make you feel, among other things, that these must be real locations. While other shots have such precise color palettes and line symmetry they make the shots aesthetically soothing. The movie, solely from a visual standpoint, is awesome, in the purest sense of the word.
If you’ve seen director-writer Jordan Peele’s “Get Out” in black theaters, then you will understand a lot of the excitement for this film. In many ways this is “Get Out” with more science fiction and even fewer white people. This movie is monumental in that sense.
Later, when my family asked me who was in “Black Panther,” I responded “all the famous black actors and half of the famous black singers.” Though, it obviously wasn’t all the black actors and half the black singers (in retrospect, Morgan Freeman’s comforting narration and Migos’ saying “skrt skrt” were noticeably absent from the film), it feels like it in a lot of ways. There has rarely been such a blockbuster movie with so many diverse faces, and certainly not in the superhero movie genre. At the screening, everyone was clearly aware of this, which made the energy in the room palpable for the entirety of the movie. There was animated clapping, shouts of affirmation and collective laughter. Watching this movie, even more than watching “Get Out” was an experience, especially for the black community.
If you are going to watch this movie without knowing anything about Marvel or its superhero movie franchise, you will have to keep in mind that this is still part of a greater collection of stories. But “Black Panther” can and does stand on its own, mostly because of the humor, visual effects and very striking social commentary. However, there are a few parts here and there where the non-comic book fan can still slip in a bathroom break or two.