Marvel movies: 'Black Panther' (2010) has Storm, but not much else
In 2018, moviegoers around the world fell in love with Wakanda after the release of Black Panther. With its engrossing story, complex characters, and stunning effects (mediocre final battle scene aside), Black Panther was a smash hit. It even earned an Oscar nomination for Best Picture.
However, most fans don’t realize that the 2018 movie wasn’t Marvel’s first stab at a Black Panther on-screen adaptation. In 2010, BET released a six-episode Black Panther miniseries.
I didn’t know much about the series before and was really surprised that it hasn’t gotten more attention. It has several big names attached: Djimon Honsou plays T’Challa, Kerry Washington voices Shuri, Alfre Woodard plays the Queen Mother, and Jill Scott plays Storm.
One thing to note is the show’s animation style. It’s done in modern stop motion that gives it the look of an animated comic book. It’s meant to be reminiscent of the early superhero cartoons of the 1960s. Back then, this was a cheap way to put together a superhero cartoon without much effort. This would be sufficient until someone could figure out how to do better animation. The movement was very jerky, and the figures seemed to move roughly one limb per panel.
The Black Panther cartoon’s animation is a more modern comic-book style. The artwork is done beautifully, and it’s clearly a much better product. But sometimes the characters’ movements aren’t as fluid as they should be.
I should point out right now that this is not a show for young kids. It’s borderline R-rated violent, it’s not afraid to show blood and gore, and it doesn’t waste any time getting there. In the very first scene, warriors from an enemy tribe are impaled on spiked traps. And there’s plenty of carnage, from blood to dismemberment to heads on spikes. Radioactive Man even shows up and melts a guy’s face right off. It ain’t pretty.
One plus is that we do get to see Storm from the X-Men come help the Wakandans fight off their invaders. In the comics, Storm and T’Challa (and later divorced), but we haven’t seen this dynamic in the Marvel Cinematic Universe — at least not yet.
Storm and T’Challa’s romance is addressed in the show; there’s an entire flashback to the two meeting as teenagers. Apparently, in Wakanda, when a prince comes of age, he gets a sort of bar mitzvah/walkabout. Except instead of a big party where people give you money and presents, this one involves wandering all over the African continent with no food or supplies and praying that you don’t die in the desert. If you don’t die, you’re a man!
During that trip, T’Challa made his way to Cairo where a young Ororo (Storm) tried to pickpocket him. After catching her in the act, Ororo tells her tale of woe. T’Challa forgives her and then frees her from the clutches of the evil guy forcing her to steal. They travel together, and Ororo develops her mutant weather-controlling powers. What a sweet story!
Except, hold up. Yes, in the comics, Ororo and T’Challa do first meet as teenagers during their respective travels. But guess what? It’s Ororo who comes to the rescue. She saves T’Challa from being kidnapped by Andreas de Ruyter, using her already-developed mutant powers.
So yeah, good job unnecessarily turning one of the X-Men’s most powerful members into a damsel-in-distress.
But my main problem with the show is that there is so much crammed into these six, 22-minute long episodes. Too much.
The creators want to address many different aspects of Black Panther’s world, including politics, religion, economics, family relations, etc. That’s great, but nothing is explored in much depth. And with so much happening, there’s not enough time to really develop the main characters (not even T’Challa) and let the audience form a connection. By comparison, the 2018 movie covered all these subjects masterfully while building up its lead characters to the point where you really feel like you know them.
At the beginning of the show, T’Challa is concerned that his jealous cousin will try to take his throne. I was poised to see some real tension and family conflict (i.e., Killmonger). Except T’Challa just appoints his cousin to the U.N. and packs him off to New York. Problem solved. We don’t see said cousin again until the last episode. This Black Panther may be craftier than the MCU version, but it makes for a less exciting story.
The primary conflict involves Ulysses Klaw assembling a superpowered team to conquer Wakanda. Klaw already murdered T’Challa’s father fifteen years earlier, and now he’s looking to kill T’Challa for the throne.
Oh, and Klaw’s team stops by Rome for help from the Vatican. Yep, we’ve talked about politics already, now it’s time to throw religion in there. The Church wants to spread Catholicism in Africa, so they’re totally on board with the whole invasion thing. They even give Klaw a zealot Black Knight with a magic blade to hack up the infidels.
Also, the Americans are sending in troops to help the Wakandans. But not just any soldiers. These are custom-made zombie cyborg soldiers!
They’re the corpses of dead American soldiers slapped together with robotics and cybernetic technology. Really gives new meaning to “Made in America.”
Feeling overwhelmed yet? Because I know I am.
I think this had the potential to be a good show. But it would have been better if it was longer than six episodes. If the creators could have spread everything out over more episodes (possibly with additional seasons) and taken more time to develop their characters, they could have covered all the high points and made something great. Instead, you get a rushed and overly complicated story that fails to say anything particularly interesting.
All of the episodes are on YouTube, so if you’re curious to see an earlier Black Panther adaptation, I’d say to check it out. But in my opinion, the 2018 Black Panther movie is by far the superior adaptation — at least until Black Panther 2 arrives in 2022.
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