Re-Imagining Black Panther

Back in April, I did a sort-of film critique of Star Wars: The Last Jedi in which I re-imagined the story of the film. I didn’t state why I made the alterations to the story that I made, like I should have, and I really don’t feel like going back and editing a blog post that no one who has already read it will take time out of their busy schedule to go back over. So, for this re-imagining of Black Panther, I’m going to take my failure from the Last Jedi post (“The greatest teacher, failure is.”) and state what I believe the story of Black Panther could do better and why. This discussion, by the way, is written as if you, my wonderful readers (I’d say “both of you,” but I think even that would be stretching the truth more than a bit), have already seen the film and are familiar with the characters. I hope you enjoy it.

First, I’m going to take a minute to describe the story of Black Panther from Killmonger’s point of view, since, to me, this is as much Killmonger’s movie as it is T’Challa’s, especially considering the strength of Michael B. Jordan’s acting in this film. This is no different than The Dark Knight as both Batman and Joker’s film.

To start, Killmonger is in a museum to help his partner, Klaue, steal an artifact made of vibranium. Klaue intends to sell the vibranium to a U.S. agent, Ross, for diamonds. The exchange goes awry when T’Challa and his crew interferes, and Klaue is captured by T’Challa and Agent Ross. Killmonger then busts Klaue out of the holding facility, with no vibranium or diamonds to show for their trouble. Killmonger then kills Klaue and escorts Klaue’s body to Wakanda as an offering to W’Kabi, an influential Wakandan whose father was killed by Klaue. So, the question now becomes, from Killmonger’s point of view, if that was the plan – kill Klaue and walk into Wakanda with him to gain the support of a full Wakandan – then why even do the whole ‘steal the vibranium to sell it for diamonds’ thing in the first place, which led to Killmonger having to go through the trouble of breaking Klaue out of the facility? Why buddy up with Klaue when the idea, from the start, was to kill him and take his body to Wakanda?

So, from Killmonger’s perspective, halfway through the film, this movie has been nothing but filler up to this point, with an antagonist who lacks motivation for his actions. There isn’t even an addition to Killmonger’s knowledge or a shift or transformation in his character that leads him to alter his original plans or motivation. At this point in the film, Killmonger lacks motivation for his behavior toward Klaue.

If, after breaking Klaue out of the facility, Klaue told Killmonger how to get into Wakanda, then we could assume that Killmonger was helping Klaue so that Killmonger could eventually gather the information he needed to execute his plan. As Killmonger already has everything he needs since the start of the film, however, his relationship with Klaue is pointless. Killmonger could’ve simply killed Klaue at the beginning of the film, perhaps as Klaue was attempting to steal the vibranium artifact from the museum, which would present a mystery to the audience since Killmonger would show up and kill Klaue, not to steal the vibranium for himself but to drag Klaue’s body out the door with him, leaving the vibranium behind (which would show that Klaue’s body is a prize more valuable to Killmonger than the small chunk of vibranium).

A bit later in the film, Killmonger could’ve walked into Wakanda just in time to challenge T’Challa before T’Challa was officially crowned king. Killmonger already knew he could get into Wakanda, and he knew that the ritual to crown a new king was taking place. All he had to do was simply walk into that ritual and throwdown with T’Challa. By having Killmonger challenge T’Challa after the ritual, the film creates another glaring flaw: T’Challa’s motive for accepting the challenge, in the film, is weak. If T’Challa wins the fight, he gains nothing, but if he loses to Killmonger, then he loses the throne, and Wakanda will be under the rule of an obviously unstable person. This is why Killmonger’s special challenge to T’Challa, after T’Challa has already become king, is a bad story decision, even if it’s stated in the film that Killmonger has a right to challenge. This comes across as nothing more than an attempted quick story fix, though, as it’s also said that T’Challa can deny the challenge. With his knowledge of Killmonger’s background, given to him by Agent Ross, T’Challa should know that accepting the challenge is a terrible idea, leading him not to accept it. Heck, he literally said to Killmonger that his job is to make sure that Wakanda’s vibranium doesn’t fall into the hands of someone like Killmonger. That means T’Challa, by his own admission, wasn’t doing his job, as he defined it, when he accepted Killmonger’s challenge. The only reason he does accept the challenge is to move the plot forward, as it is written, and when an event in a story occurs ‘because plot,’ then the story is weak and should go through some changes to make sure there’s a sensible flow from one event to another.

Backing up a bit, another instance of ‘because plot’ is when Agent Ross wakes up from his injury, fully healed, and is told the secrets of Wakanda. It would’ve been easy for T’Challa’s sister, Shuri, to keep Ross unconscious if the idea was to make sure he didn’t discover the secrets of the real Wakanda. However, for story purposes, Ross had to awaken, so he could inform T’Challa (and the audience) of Killmonger’s background.

Anyway, in my mind, Killmonger should’ve challenged during the official ceremony that took place near the start of the film, when no one else wanted to challenge, when every citizen of Wakanda was happy to have T’Challa as their king because they were happy with his father, who they considered a benevolent ruler. This is when Killmonger could’ve gone after what the Wakandans believed. He could’ve told everyone attending the challenge ceremony what happened to his father, that the king everyone thinks is so great took from Killmonger the father he would never have a chance to know. With this, Killmonger could rock the foundation of Wakanda in two ways: delivering the truth of the former, beloved king and beating T’Challa to take the Wakandan throne.

The story could then split between T’Challa’s recovery and expressions of doubt and Killmonger exploring his past and what motivates him to do what he’s doing with the Wakandan technology. Killmonger’s vision of his father could’ve been more in-depth, taking the time to allow the audience a chance to relate to Killmonger and his life struggles. By removing the filler from the first half of the film, we would now have time to delve into Killmonger’s recent background (eliminating the need for Agent Ross’ explanation) and history. We could explore Killmonger’s non-Wakandan side, his mother and grandparents, the fact their ancestry can be traced directly to slavery (something I felt was missing from the film). Killmonger can also express anger for the past:

Killmonger: “Yeah, the slaves were freed but freed to what? To open hatred? To lynching? To have to fight for the right to be treated like something that’s barely a human being? People say things are better, but are they really? Are injustices really okay when the oppressors pretend to be your friend?”

This exploration of the slavery angle would be a set-up for the payoff to come after Killmonger is defeated by T’Challa. The line of dialogue Killmonger says about being buried in the ocean with his ancestors is a wonderful line; it just doesn’t have a proper set-up in the film. The scene at the end, in which he speaks of his father promising to show him the beauty of Wakanda one day, could’ve been related to the audience through Killmonger touring Wakanda (as weapons and supplies are prepared for shipment around the world) to see the beauty for himself as flashbacks of young Killmonger with his father play out. This would allow Killmonger to show softer emotions that the audience can connect to and give him an opportunity to wall those emotions when others approach him.

Also, during the exploration of Killmonger’s motives, perhaps a couple of the Wakandan tribes could band together to try to remove Killmonger from the throne, as they see him as an outsider threatening the status quo. As the new Black Panther minus the suit (I’ll get to that later), though, Killmonger would crush this coup attempt, giving the audience an opportunity to see how truly unmerciful Killmonger is toward anyone who stands in his way, placing Wakanda in a state of martial law. This stark contrast to the peaceful Wakanda we saw at the start of the film, pre-ceremonial challenge, as well as Killmonger’s brutal and heinous use of the Black Panther powers compared to T’Challa’s restraint and self-control, would serve as visual reason for why Wakanda needs T’Challa as its king.

In addition, throughout this time, while Killmonger is making plans and preparing to send Wakandan weapons out into the world, Okoye, the top guard to the king, could debate whether she is loyal to the throne or loyal to the person on the throne. This is when she could realize the difference and become an informant to T’Challa (more specifically, to his sister Shuri and girlfriend Nakia), since T’Challa’s family, at this point in the story, is in exile as they tend to T’Challa’s injured body and spirit. Of course, once they learn of Killmonger’s developing reign of terror over Wakanda and his plans to send Wakandan weapons all over the world, it’s up to Shuri and Nakia to convince T’Challa, who doesn’t believe he can be the rightful ruler of Wakanda now that he’s been beaten by a superior foe, to return to the fight:

Shuri: “The issue is no longer about your father and his. This is about the world, the balance of power and who wields it. Do you trust Killmonger to wield that power?”
Nakia: “Do you trust the world he will create?”
Shuri: “Because if you do, if you will not become the Black Panther to fight him, then I will.”
T’Challa: “You are not a trained warrior, Shuri. You will die.”
Shuri: “I would rather die than live in that world. What about you?”
T’Challa: “I would die to protect you, both you and Nakia, but I cannot raise a hand against the rightful king.”
Nakia: “That love you have for Shuri, that you have for me… I want you to show that love to the world. But I don’t need you to die protecting me. I need you to create a better world we can all live in together.”
Shuri: “We can say for certain that Killmonger does not intend to create a better world. His world will be chaos, more suffering, more death.”
T’Challa: “Then we must fight him. I must fight him.”

I would also change the setting of the final battle, not having it take place in Wakanda. I think it would be more interesting if T’Challa was too late in stopping Killmonger from boarding a plane and taking off. From a distance, T’Challa, in his Black Panther suit, would challenge Killmonger, but as the suits were stolen by Shuri while Killmonger underwent the ritual to gain the powers of the Black Panther, Killmonger, lacking a suit and aware of his tremendous disadvantage, would simply say, “I decline your challenge,” and board his plane. Exclaiming, “The challenge never ended,” T’Challa would find his own vehicle, and as Killmonger noticed his enemy tailing him, he would decide to take T’Challa to his old neighborhood, where T’Challa’s father killed his father, where T’Challa would have to face the ghosts of his past. The final battle wouldn’t be a huge, epic fight, it would be a more personal struggle, one in which a juiced-up Killmonger challenged a juiced-up T’Challa to fight without the Black Panther suit. “When your father killed mine, he had an advantage. Is your cowardice gonna equal your father’s?” As T’Challa removes his Black Panther suit, the fight would ensue, and with all the destruction these guys lay on each other and the environment around them (and the falls they survive, crashing through windows), there would be a clear contrast between the non-juiced fight at the beginning of the film and the juiced fight happening now.

As the setting has changed, Killmonger, while dying, will watch the sunset from the neighborhood in which he grew up. He could reminisce about his father’s stories of sitting on a specific mountain, admiring the beauty of a Wakandan sunset, adding a layer of tragedy as Killmonger is aware that he will never see another beautiful Wakandan sunset for himself. Once he died, though, T’Challa would transport Killmonger’s body back to Wakanda and bury him up high on the mountain Killmonger related to him in the story, the sun setting as T’Challa offers a respectful salute to his fallen, fellow soldier. The film could still wrap up with T’Challa revealing the real Wakanda to the world.

Okay, that’s it. So, what do you think? Do you like my version of the story? Do you prefer the original? If there’s a movie you want to suggest I tackle for my next re-imagining post, let me know. Also, don’t misunderstand me when it comes to Black Panther: I enjoy watching this film. It’s one of my favorite Marvel Cinematic Universe films. When I watch a movie, though, I always ask myself what I thought could’ve been better and what I would’ve done different and why, then I allow myself to re-imagine.

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