Outside of the film itself, one great thing to come from the release of Black Panther is the corresponding original soundtrack for the film curated by Kendrick Lamar. While it’s great when comic book movies, like the two Guardians of the Galaxy films, use old pop songs to fill out their soundtracks, what’s nice about Black Panther: The Album is that Lamar filled it with new, original songs that were directly inspired by the film. With the first single from the album, “All the Stars,” breaking into the top 10 of the Billboard Hot 100 this week, let’s take a look at some original songs from comic book movies.
“All the Stars” – Kendrick Lamar and SZA
As stated above, this is the first single off of the soundtrack album for the recently released Black Panther. The song has a great beat and flow to it. Lamar’s distorted pre-chorus and SZA’s powerful chorus work off each other really well. You can hear in the lyrics allusions to the film and to the characters in it. It wouldn’t be surprising to see this song continue to climb its way up the top 10.
“Men in Black” – Will Smith
This track from the film (and yes, this film was based off of a comic book) of the same name was actually Smith’s first solo single, and he made it count. Choosing a perfectly infectious sample in Patrice Rushen’s “Forget Me Nots,” the song pulls you in and sticks itself into your head. It’s also just fun to hear Will Smith rap about fighting aliens.
“Batdance” – Prince
This song from 1989’s Batman actually went to number one on the Billboard Hot 100. The song features samples of dialogue from the film on top of a repetitive dance beat, but there’s a great guitar solo by Prince in the middle of the song that shakes things up. The creativity of Prince really comes through in that it seems like he blended a bunch of different ideas together into one interesting track.
“Flash” – Queen
This was the theme song from a more forgotten comic book movie, 1980’s Flash Gordon. Like “Batdance,” this song also features dialogue from the movie sampled throughout. The song isn’t too far of a departure from Queen’s signature sound; it almost seems like it could stand on it’s own away from the movie as just another quality Queen track.
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Director Ryan Coogler made his own uniquely individualistic twist of a Marvel movie and it is nothing short of amazing and revolutionary. From the complex setting, characters, music, and the fashion, watching this film I felt a full immersion of how special and important the insanely advanced nation of Wakanda truly is and it’s fleshed out culture.
Wakanda feels more like a character than a setting. There are traditions and distinct tribes that highlight the different aspects of this technological beauty of a nation. The king of Wakanda, T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman), has to not only be the deciding factor in which direction to take his nation, but also protect and defend it with the mantle of Black Panther. The film focuses on T’Challa’s duality as king and warrior of a secretive nation and the effects an extremely vindictive outsider can have due to a severe mistake by T’Challa’ father.
Each actor puts such a high level of care, complexity, and development into their character. While the film does not mainly focus on T’Challa as a character so much as its side characters, Boseman’s T’Challa has a dynamic perspective of how his nation should be led. He struggles to choose a side with his nation’s internal conflict of tradition vs. innovation. He also struggles to follow in his father’s footsteps as a king while making his own mark as well. The women in this film are integral to the film’s plot and are never brushed to the side. T’Challa’s sister Shuri (Letitia Wright) is such a refreshing take on the role of the younger teenage sister. Wright’s portrayal is caring, innovative, comedic, and confident. Her character helps create most of the country’s technology, and never takes a back seat in this film. Wright knows when to time each joke effectively and knows how to show true emotion when a scene demands it. She takes part in action sequences and is never told to let the adults handle things.
Okoye (Danai Gurira) is a loyal, determined, compassionate, and bold warrior, and is head of the Dora Milaje, Wakanda’s elite all-female bodyguards/special forces. Gurira’s performance is unique. She leads in her action sequences and highlights the struggles she goes through when she wants to care for her loved ones but has to stay committed to her position. Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o) is T’Challa’s ex-girlfriend, but is never portrayed as the damsel. She is actually a Wakandian spy that knows how to be both brutal in her fighting technique and considerate when it comes for the love of country and T’Challa. Nyong’o reflects her character’s desires for her country and shows how she’d rather have her country strive for change rather than tradition.
Forest Whitaker as Wakandan shaman Zuri and Angela Bassett as Ramonda, Queen Mother of Wakanda and mother to T’Challa and Shuri, both shine brightly in the moments when they have to support T’Challa with his vital decisions as king. And while Martin Freeman’s Agent Everett Ross and Andy Serkis’ Ulysses Klaue were wonderful additions as side characters, the film’s most significant character aside from T’Challa was the American outsider known as Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan). Jordan’s performance was the most fascinating and heartfelt villain Marvel has seen since Tom Hiddleston’s Loki. Jordan’s portrayal as Killmonger made me feel such a great level of sympathy for the character and how he feels he was wronged by Wakanda in a way. A film’s hero is only as good as it’s villain and Jordan knocks it out of the park in this film. The best villains also make you understand their perspectives and motivations and Jordan presents a villain where you can somewhat see the reasoning behind his perspective and motivation due to the cards he’s been dealt in life.
The film’s music composed by Ludwig Goransson is deeply-rooted in a type of African percussion and choral sounds and is highlights the character’s personalities and their specific culture. The album for this film has a mix of R&B and hip-hop stars such as Kendrick Lamar. Schoolboy Q, Jay Rock, SZA, Khalid, and many more. This album gives off a tone of revolution in this film.
The costume designer Ruth E. Carter displays distinct tones and styles for each character’s personality and reflects Wakanda’s hybrid culture of tradition and innovation especially with the uniforms worn by the Dora Milaje.
Director Ryan Coogler has constructed a film that feels both separate yet connected to the rest of the films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Coogler’s tone mixes mostly with the theme of tradition vs. innovation and develops each character to see how they alter their perspectives of the world.
The film does have some flaws such as pacing and special effects but they don’t diminish the successful aspects of the film. The pacing sometimes unevenly alternates from one action sequence to a more character driven scene. And some of the special effects of the film such as the CGI felt a little cartoon-ish rather than completely realistic.Lastly, I felt that there needed to be slightly more development with T’Challa in some scenes.
Overall, the film proves how superhero films can be fresh, vibrant, and truly unconventional. They don’t always have to set up another film or stick to a type of formula. This film strays away from the formulated plot that these Marvel movies are known for by having its own original tone, distinct personalities in its characters, questionably agreeable motivations from its villain, and a great moral to the entire story. Coogler provided a film that should be common in the film industry but sadly is rarely seen and hopefully, this film helps usher in more stories that reflect the world today. I give Black Panther an A-.
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