The story of the first mainstream black superhero, Marvel’s Black Panther, finally makes it to the big screen in a solo/standalone film that is sort of a cross between Game of Thrones, James Bond and Wonder Woman, but with a definite Afrocentric twist — as you would expect.
Written and directed by Ryan Coogler (Creed), this film does the character of T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) and his homeland, Wakanda, proud, with colorful and unique costumes, set design and dialects that feel so culturally authentic that you might think this fictional country really exists. (For sure it would be awesome if it did!)
Black Panther has been around since 1966, when Marvel’s Stan Lee and Jack Kirby first had him going up against the Fantastic Four in the pages of their “World’s Greatest Comics Magazine” (Fantastic Four #52). The character first appeared on screen in 2016’s Captain America: Civil War – in case you missed it.
This film picks up with T’Challa’s return to Wakanda after the death of his father and the other events in the Civil War story. The prince must defend his right to the crown and also try to reign in the terrorist known as Ulysses Klaue (Klaw in the comics), who is played with demented enthusiasm by Andy Serkis.
Klaue is working with a mercenary known as Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) in an effort to obtain the alien metal vibranium for various nefarious needs; but Killmonger also has ulterior movies and may or may not have a mysterious connection to Wakanda.
This is a very good film and another big win for Marvel Studios, but on the downside, to be very picky, the narrative suffers from some minor, ultra-nerdy logic issues and loose ends, and a few subpar special effects. This didn’t bother me much, but should still be mentioned.
On the plus side the performances here are all first-rate, especially Michael B. Jordan’s take on Killmonger, which manages to be equal parts deranged and sympathetic. Boseman as T’Challa is also a superb acting achievement.
The scene-stealers in this film though are the women warriors of Wakanda, who include Danai Gurira (Michonne from The Walking Dead) as the badass, vibranium-spear-wielding Okoye; Lupita Nyong’o as a Wakandan spy and T’Challa’s love interest, Nakia; and Letitia Wright as the Black Panther’s feisty baby sister and head gizmo-designer, Shuri.
Black Panther also stars Angela Bassett as T’Challa’s mother, Ramonda; Forest Whitaker as the tribe’s elder leader, Zuri; and Martin Freeman as CIA operative Everett Ross (another Civil War reprise).
As usual, be sure to stay through all of the end credits for some other surprise appearances.
Any jungle-adventure film with giant, armor-clad rhinos is a winner in my book, but even if that’s not your thing, there is something in this movie for everyone. Marvel has delivered yet another top-tier superhero epic where you care deeply about the characters and their crazy world; and this one covers many topical subjects from today’s headlines to boot. Grade: 8.5/10
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