5 Ways to Prep: Black Panther
By George Rose
February 15, 2018
To those who missed me during my absence last week, I apologize. I fell victim to that amazing little illness that’s been going around and slept through most of it. The good news is that I am fully revitalized and this week brings a movie most worthy of the 5 Ways to Prep articles. For those of you following the series, you know I am a Marvel super junkie that can’t stop himself from attending every comic book convention to come within a 100 mile radius of my house. To be honest, it won’t be long before I break that barrier either. This weekend, we have Marvel’s BLACK PANTHER!!! But oh, oh me oh my, we have soooo much more than that.
We are still on the romantic high of Valentine’s Day, we are in the midst of Black History Month and Presidents’ Day is around the corner. That basically makes this weekend the Winter festival we’ve all been waiting for. To add a dollop of tasty cream to the top of this celebratory feast, Marvel is giving us the final film before their three-phase cinematic universe (MCU) comes to an end with Avengers Infinity War in May. Almost twenty films later we have finally arrived at the end and, yet, we still have a first on our hands. This is Marvel’s first MCU title to feature an African American lead and what a month to drop the bomb! Anticipation is at a fever pitch at big numbers are about to pounce at the box office. But wait, THERE’S EVEN MORE!
Well, more for me. Probably not for you. Just when I thought there was no better time to find myself living near Philadelphia - what with the recent Eagles Super Bowl victory and all - I have come to learn from a barrage of TV advertisements that Marvel Universe Live is coming to Philly this weekend. Since my fiancé’s happiness comes from my happiness, and my happiness comes from injecting Marvel into my veins every time a superhero hands me a rusty needle, it came as no huge surprise that my Valentine’s Days gift was tickets to the show. Yes, the show is for kids. Yes, I’m excited. And yes, oh yes, you better expect to read about it next week.
For now, my weekend begins with the Thursday sneak preview showing of Black Panther and that’s what we will focus on. There’s a lot of fake hoopla going around the internet about this being the “first black superhero movie” or “the first one produced by a major studio.” I don’t know about you but all I hear in my head is, “MARVEL MOVIE!” Their track record is flawless. Early reviews still sit at 98% positive which, again, makes the latest Marvel movie the BEST MOVIE EVERRR!!! Oh, the fandom! I am amped up and ready to go. If I don’t explode from Marvel madness this weekend then I am moving to L.A. and devoting my life to the cult of Kevin Feige. I assume you are too. If not, and you are one of the three people not ready for the new release, let me ease you into the weekend with 5 Ways to Prep for Black Panther.
#1) CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR (2016)
If there’s only time for one Marvel movie before Black Panther than this is it. It’s the only title to include an appearance from the character and it’s where we last left off a few of the others that might be making cameos in the new film. The Panther’s real name is T’Challa and he is the Prince of Wakanda. Well, he was right up until his father, the King, was killed during an incident involving the Winter Soldier, former best friend of Captain America and currently the most wanted man on Iron Man’s radar. This is what leads to the Avengers’ Civil War.
It’s complicated because Winter Soldier isn’t an assassin for hire so much as a brainwashed super soldier that blindly does the bidding of evil doers. Unfortunately, he is also responsible for the death of Iron Man’s parents. Yeah, it’s deep. Captain America has a soft spot for the guy and Black Panther is now aware the Winter Soldier is kind of a good guy at heart, so they move this unpredictable human weapon to Wakanda for safe keeping until their can cure the Soldier's control issues. Wakanda, as we learn, is a tech-savvy nation that’s hidden away in Africa and it’s there that the Soldier can wait peacefully until he’s fixed. While you probably don’t need so much of this to understand the plot of Black Panther (which should be fairly self-contained), it won’t hurt to have the backstory in case it comes up or we get those familiar cameos. If you have time for two Marvel movies, check out the second Avengers. Age of Ultron will give you what you might want to know about Andy Serkis’ villain in Black Panther.
#2) HANCOCK (2008)
What bothers me about people saying there’s no other black superhero movies is that it wasn’t even that long ago that a black superhero blockbuster was released. Granted, a decade is a long time to wait between appearances considering the half-dozen white hero movies we get each year, but I digress. Back when the original X-Men and Spider-Man trilogies were wrapping things up we had Will Smith, blockbuster extraordinaire, doing his best to ride the hero wave. Rather than step into the shoes of an already legendary comic book character, he starred in this original story about man with powers and no memory. Because he finds himself alone on this planet without answers or friends, he turns to the bottle. This drunk and disorderly hero both saves and damages the city in grand fashion, and it makes for entertaining cinema.
That’s where things start off and I’ll save the spoilers for another time. Despite lackluster reviews (41% positive), the movie opened with $62.6 million and ended with about $228 million. In today’s cinema, you rarely find superhero movies earning almost four-times their opening weekend. Heck, DC’s Justice League struggled to make $228 million just last year. Basically, Hancock was a huge hit and it’s a nice reminder of the support a black superhero lead can get when done right. Hancock was an ok movie but it had a big celebrity behind it. Black Panther has great reviews and a solid cast, but how many of you know who Chadwick Boseman is? Yeah, that’s the lead. He’s no Will Smith but, with proven acting chops (42, Get on Up, Marshall) and the Marvel brand behind him, we are in for something special.
#3) BLADE (1998)
Not only is Black Panther not the first black superhero movie ever, it’s not even the first black Marvel movie. Yes, Black Panther is the first to be a part of the MCU but back in the day it was Wesley Snipes’ Blade that broke through to the mainstream. Not only was he the first black Marvel man to grace us with his presence, he started the whole superhero resurgence that came later with X-Men and Spider-Man. Seriously. Before any of these corny white dudes were getting all the credit, there was a black vampire in the shadows quietly leading the charge.
To make matters worse, Blade doesn’t even get any credit for being one of the first R-rated superhero movies. Nope, that credit goes to ANOTHER white guy, Ryan Reynolds in Deadpool. R-rated hero movies aren’t new and neither are black superheroes. Although, like Deadpool, he’s more of an anti-hero. His mother was bitten by a vampire while she was giving birth so he is a daywalking vampire. He can go out in the sunlight like a human but he needs blood (or a serum) to stay alive like a vampire. He’s strong, he packs a sword with his guns, and he’s super cool… just like a black Deadpool. His mission is to save humanity from vampires while he wears sunglasses at night. Yup, total badass. Blade led to two decent sequels (the last of which even starred Reynolds) but the truth remains - HE is the first black, R-rated Marvel hero.
#4) SPAWN (1997)
Blade requires the “first black Marvel movie” brand because we STILL haven’t made it to the first black superhero movie. That title more appropriately goes to Spawn. Although most people don’t know of the comic or the publisher (Image Comics), the movie earned a surprising $54.9 million over twenty years ago. With inflation, that’s almost $110 million in 2018. So a character that most people don’t know, from a comic nobody read, starring a guy nobody remembers today… earned half as much as Justice League. That’s impressive.
Almost as impressive is pulling off a PG-13 rating with the subject matter at hand. A mercenary is killed and comes back to life as Spawn, a crusader whose cape is as powerful as he is. Working now as a soldier for the devil, Spawn must break free from those hellish chains and a fat demon clown to save the woman he loves. It’s like the grittiness of Blade mixed with the intelligent cape from Doctor Strange and the devilish chains of Ghost Rider. So before all these different Marvel movies came out, there was a black guy that did everything first without getting any credit. Damn. There were two black superhero movies within a year of each other that came out before superheroes had their renaissance and we’re all sitting here like Black Panther is something new. Shame on us. Black Panther is still going to be amazing but let’s not act like this is anything revolutionary. Well reviewed? Absolutely. The first of its kind? Not even close.
#5) BLANKMAN (1994)
Yo, black people are so freaking cool that before superheroes were awesome they had two of their own movies. To top that, before there were two black superhero movies there were movies that starred black actors that were making fun of superheroes. Almost twenty-five years ago and several years before the Wayans brothers made mock-movies all the rage with Scary Movie, there was Blankman. Written by and starring Damon Wayans, the story is about an inventor that builds himself a low-rate Batman costume. I’m talking yellow rubber gloves, roller blades, a toilet bowl plunger and a sheet for a cape. Throw that together with a half-baked plot and you have yourself a hilarious good time at the movies. Even funnier is, again, the fact that we all still think Black Panther is the first black superhero movie. It’s not, it’s just the first time the rest of the world is invited to the party. Black heroes have been kicking ass for decades.