Movie Review: Black Panther

One of the most highly anticipated films of 2018 presents a new vision

Black Panther
Directed by Ryan Coogler
With Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong'o, Danai Gurira, Martin Freeman, Daniel Kaluuya, Letitia Wright, Winston Duke, Angela Bassett, Forest Whitaker, Andy Serkis

The Marvel Universe continues to expand with the addition of Black Panther, an African American superhero that is cut from a similar mold to Iron Man. The character appeared previously in Captain America: Civil War, but now has his own stand-alone film to flesh out his background.

The people behind the Marvel series have the formula down. Many classic elements from the previous films can be recognized, but they get a new spin and a new look in Black Panther.

One major criticism of comic-book films and action films, in general, is that there is a lack of diversity in the lead roles, with a woman and minority group members seen as sidekicks or villains, but never stars.

The DC universe gambled on Wonder Woman, with a female star and director. It paid off for them, and so far is the most successful of the DC films, at least critically.

Marvel so far has not given one of their female characters a solo film, but they have finally showcased a minority hero in a stunning action film that celebrates African and African American culture.

The film Black Panther gives the origin story of the character Black Panther (played by Chadwick Boseman), who when he is not in his panther costume is King T'Challa of the African nation of Wakanda.

The plot could have been more original. Some mercenaries are trying to steal a mysterious metal called Vibranium, which came from a meteor that hit earth thousands of years ago. But with the new settings in Wakanda plus a side trip to South Korea, the chase for this great whatsit remains thrilling.

Wakanda itself is a visual accomplishment, a beautiful and bustling country above ground, with hidden places for the superhero subplots underneath, all with African artistic motifs. It is reminiscent of some of the alien settings in the Star Wars franchise — exotic, yet something that people can still relate to.

Wakanda has strong, proud female warriors and traditional healers but also modern scientists and contemporary people. Each has a chance to develop a character. Letitia Wright as the young female scientist and princess Shuri, in particular, has some attitude and a sense of humor, which keeps things from getting too serious.

Some of the female warriors also crack some jokes to show they are human.

Actress Lupita Nyong'o is the warrior woman, and her character helps to raise issues such as modern-day slavery in Africa.

Action films rise and fall not on their heroes, but on their villains. There are two in Black Panther. N'Jadaka (Michael B. Jordan) is an African American in hip-hop clothes and stylings. He seems highly educated when it comes to history, but has a grudge against some of the other characters. He brings some contemporary social issues into the plot and raises some legitimate questions about how to deal with injustice.

The other is a more typical bad guy. Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis) plays the sort of arms dealer and smuggler that the wide audience can relate to. Serkis appears looking like himself, more or less. Usually, he does the motion for CGI characters such as Supreme Leader Snoke in recent Star Wars films, Caesar in the Planet of the Apes, Gollum in Lord of the Rings, and the title role in King Kong.

He can make a scary character without motion capture as well.

Also figuring into the plot is a CIA agent played by Martin Freeman, known for the UK version of The Office and Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit films. His role is a bit small, but he serves as a tiny foothold for reality, since the CIA at least exists, unlike Wakanda and Vibranium.

Black Panther is more than just a remake of Iron Man with a black cast and new locations. It is a complete reimagining of the superhero concept infused with new cultural references from start to finish in all aspects, including the score.

Black Panther ends up as the most socially aware of the current crop of comic book films, moving beyond the standard cliches and tropes. But it doesn’t lack in action scenes including ritual combat and car chases.

The main character will be back in Avengers: Infinity War, later this year. As with all of the Marvel films, you have to sit through the entire credit sequence for a hint of things to come. There are two scenes in the credits.

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