“Black Panther” Movie Review


     For all the sociopolitical importance bestowed on Marvel’s “Black Panther”, it should not be ignored that the 18th film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is, yet again, successfully able to bring forth new characters into the larger story and allow them to flourish in ways most movie franchises can only dream of doing.  Using many of the same storytelling devices already proven successful when Marvel introduced audiences to the characters in “Guardians of the Galaxy”, director Ryan Coogler (“Creed”) brings to vivid and colorful life the isolated African country of Wakanda, continuing the story of King T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman), who was introduced in 2016’s “Captain America: Civil War” as the Black Panther.  And interestingly enough, there are so many outstanding and memorable characters throughout the film, that T’Challa himself has a bit of a problem maintaining the audience’s full attention.  There is just so much to see, explore, and experience.

     As is explained in the film’s prologue, Wakanda is an African nation whose land was long ago struck by a meteor containing an otherworldly ore called Vibranium, which is mined and used by its people to help create the advanced technology we see throughout the many sequences in the film taking place there.  The metal is responsible for everything from the ships and weapons that make up the nation’s defenses, to the energy absorbent suit the Black Panther himself wears when taking on missions in his country’s name.  Strangely enough; however, the country has isolated itself from the rest of Africa and the world, recognized by other nations as a third world country comprised of poor farmers and nothing more.  But what is found within their borders is a country flourishing with the kind of riches and technology one would compare to the grandest of cities seen only in a science fiction film, rather than the present day.

     Within its borders, the people who make up the country speak frequently of protecting their way of life, never allowing outsiders in, nor divulging the power they possess.  Coogler, and co-screenwriter Joe Robert Cole, have conceived an emotionally charged story that exposes the cracks within Wakanda’s isolationist structure and the fact they, like all countries, have secrets in their past which they go to great lengths to keep that way.  All of this didn’t prevent an arms dealer named Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis) from infiltrating Wakanda and stealing a piece of their precious metal, which he in turn uses to create a powerful weapon for his own exploits.  He also set off an explosion, killing thousands and leaving a price on his head that many within the Wankanda inner circle plan on having him pay for with his life.

     But a mysterious man within Klaue’s entourage seems to have an agenda of own.  Known for his penchant for killing men in combat, Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan), appears to be a powerful ally, but we soon realize there is something more to his participation in Klaue’s nefarious plan.  In fact, he has one of his own.  Through a previously unknown bloodline, Killmonger is set to challenge T’Challa for the throne and title of King of Wakanda.  And his cause brings chaos and uncertainty to a nation that has thrived without negative attention for generations.  The rhetoric spoken by Killmonger is that of an angry, hateful man who seeks to use the power and technology possessed by Wakanda to overpower the oppressors of people around the world who share the same skin color as they do.  There are some within the hierarchy who stand with Killmonger, including the leader of one of the most powerful tribes, W’Kabi (Daniel Kaluuya), and others who simply support the will of their King.  As these events unfold, T’Challa deals with what may well be a civil war of his own, with factions he once thought loyal now starring him down as the enemy.

     As good as Boseman’s T’Challa and Jordan’s Killmonger are, the best scenes in “Black Panther” are the ones featuring the three most prominent female characters.  Fans of “The Walking Dead” will love Danai Gurira’s turn as General Okoye, the leader of the King’s guard, who steals every scene she’s in with a combination of witty dialogue and athletic skill that instantly makes her one of the very best heroes in the Marvel Universe.  And right behind her is Lupita Nyong’o’s Wakanda spy Nakia, the love interest of T’Challa who can match both his physical prowess as well as his will to do what’s right for the country and the world.  And even Letitia Wright’s Shuri shines as a sort of “Q” from the Bond films, providing T’Challa with the various gizmos and suit technology that allow his Black Panther to come out on top against the fiercest of foes.  The supporting work here by all three of these ladies, as well as Forrest Whitaker, Martin Freeman, Sterling K. Brown, and Angela Bassett round out one of the most impressive non “Avengers” casts we’ve seen in a Marvel film to date, boasting a plethora of Academy Award winners and nominees to go along with many notable character actors.

     But it’s Coogler who ultimately brings this amazing vision to the screen, putting his stamp on the ever expanding Marvel culture and expertly giving life to incredible characters who will likely become staples within the universe for years to come.  The level of creativity demonstrated by the story, production design, costumes, and use of CGI effects is as good as I’ve seen in any of the  other Marvel films, giving the film a unique and unmistakable look all its own.  And while it’s difficult to rank or differentiate the 18 Marvel films from one another, especially when each occupies the same cinematic space, I will simply contend Coogler’s film belongs in the upper half of Marvel’s many outstanding creations that somehow have maintained such lofty standards and continue to evolve and get better with every entry.  Also, with the upcoming “Avengers: Infinity War”, a film that will see the inclusion of the “Guardians of the Galaxy” characters, the Earth based offering just became a whole lot more interesting as King T’Challa and the people of Wakanda enter the fray.  From the looks of it, the Avengers will need all the help they can get.  GRADE: A