I left the theater after watching Black Panther with a sense of pride. For a movie that had to carry so much weight, it pulled it off. T’challa was not only an intelligent hero but also a vulnerable one. He displayed emotions and feelings towards his father and the idea of leadership that many of us as black men feel today. The way the movie portrayed the relationship between the black man and the black women is one you rarely see in the media. It was a relationship that allowed both parties to lean on each other and lead when the situation called for it.
Black Panther made you feel good to be black, and for those of us who follow comics, games, anime, etc. we know that these moments are few and far between. But, as I left the theater something I began to think about the actual story. Separating what the movie stood for and judging it as just another superhero film I started to see things that made me wonder if the movie suffered from edits to make it fit a particular timetable set forth by the studio. It made me ask a question. Would this movie have been even better if it was longer?
The Untold Story of Killmonger
When you see people speak of Killmonger, they’re usually referencing his line at the end of the movie, but what you don’t hear or think about is his development as a character. One of the things I would have wanted to see more of is the development of Killmonger as the main villain. His ideals sat at the intersection of the traditional supervillain and black revolutionary. It’s why so many people gravitated to his character. But I felt like he never got the time to grow into the person we wanted him to be. When we think about the actual scenes, the movie goes like this.
- Killmonger robs a museum
- Busts a villain out of jail
- Kills said villain
- Takes over Wakanda
It sounds like a lot, but it happens for a brief period. And I’m sure I’m probably in the minority but the lines they gave him always came off a bit forced. As if to make up for the lack of time they could give him it seemed like they made sure every line of dialogue mirrored a revolutionary meme. As much as people love his dying words I couldn’t help but look for Keenan Ivory Waynes yell “Message” from inside the cave where T’challa and Killmonger watched the sunset. It wasn’t that the line didn’t have weight, it just felt a little forced. But even his death felt like a mistake.
One of the themes in the movie was T’challas transition into leadership. There were moments of strength but also of serious doubt. Could he do the right thing? Could he be the leader we all wanted? By saving Killmonger, against his will, and trying to change his philosophy could have opened many doors for future movies and conversations. Killing him seemed short-sighted. He was, in essence, the Joker to T’challa’s Batman.
The Rise and Fall and Eventual Rise of Black Panther
Speaking of the Black Panther, what irked me about the movie was the pacing of his rise and fall. Again, having to deal with the confines of the movie, the time between Black Panther’s ascension to the throne and his temporary fall from grace happened too quickly. The beginning of the film set the tone, could T’challa lead? Ultimately we never honestly found out. Right after a moving scene between T’challa and his father, the movie rushes to an action sequence that didn’t fit. Don’t get me wrong, it was super entertaining, but right after that scene, we see Kilmonger at the gates of Wakanda and after a quick introduction removes T’Challa from the throne.
One could say that he did learn a valuable lesson through his trials, and confronting his father and the elders on the tradition to keeping the borders to Wakanda closed, but his fall from grace was too predictable. As soon as Kilmonger made the challenge I knew this was going the way of Rocky and Clubber Lang. It was a layup. The soft boy prince versus the grizzled war vet hell-bent on revenge. You knew it could only go one way, and when it happened, it wasn’t that I was numb to the result but more of ‘this is sad, but this is the movies.’
Even the conversation during the final battle seemed forced. It was a conversation that you would expect to unpack in a Tarantino film. Kilmonger and Black Panther, sitting opposite of each other breaking down their philosophies and waxing poetic before a final bloody battle. It would have set the stage for a scene where choosing which person was the ‘good guy’ wouldn’t have been so black and white.
I’m sure at this point someone will point out the fact that a conversation between protagonist and antagonist did take place in the throne room. And you’re right it did, but what it didn’t do was convince me to take either side of the fight. Reciting lines that I would read on Twitter or blogs isn’t going to push the needle. The “action” that I wanted wasn’t going to take place in an action movie, but I didn’t care. I needed to root for someone. Instead, I was stuck in the middle, agreeing with both sides.
In the end, the good guy wins, and we all celebrate, but what’s interesting to me is that the most powerful moment in the final battle was not between Black Panther and T’challa but between Okoye and W’kabi. When W’kabi took that knee in front of Okoye that said so much. When’s the last time you seen that type of venerability between a man and a woman? Way more moving than “bury me in the sea.”
The Movie on The Cutting Floor
What I want is ultimately at odds with the movie had to be. Thanks to Netflix and the ways we consume entertainment, I wanted more, and clearly, there was more to give. I remember hearing at one time Black Panther’s run time was about 4 hours and it’s easy to see why. There was so much to unpack and as an origin story and relatively new IP you had to get all you could into this one movie. We like to think that sequels are a given but that isn’t always the case. Sometimes you are only promised one chance, and that means scarifies. You have to fit your vision in a two-hour block instead of multiple films. Do my gripes take away from the move as a whole? No. Black Panther was one hell of a movie and worthy of the praise it’s received. But when you look beyond the visuals, when you separate the spectacle of the release from the film, you can see an even more profound story shining through. And it was that story that I left wanting to see. I want the story from the rumored four-hour cut. And the sad thing is, I might not ever see that version.