Sometimes, a movie’s importance eclipses its quality.
“Black Panther” is a really solid superhero movie in and of itself. It’s got the same problems most superhero movies have, especially when the computer-generated chaos swings into full gear.
But, “Black Panther” is a cultural landmark, a big-budget Hollywood blockbuster that embraces and celebrates an Afro-centric worldview without shying away from the tensions surrounding race, class and gender in the world today.
The significance of this film cannot be overstated.
First, let’s deal with the origin story comic-book nerds have been familiar with since the 1960s. Black Panther was introduced into the Marvel Cinematic Universe in “Captain America: Civil War” as T’Challa, the newly crowned king of the fictional African country of Wakanda.
As played with poise and dignity by Chadwick Boseman, T’Challa’s masked alter ego has superhuman strength and an indestructible suit, both thanks to Wakanda’s most important natural resource, the multifaceted mineral Vibranium.
Thanks to Vibranium, Wakanda is vastly technologically superior to the rest of the world. The country thrives in secret while, to the rest of the planet, it looks like a typical, isolated, and impoverished African nation.
T’Challa does pretty well on his own, but it’s the women of Wakanda that make the country so formidable. From T’Challa’s love interest and superspy Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o) to the fierce, spear-wielding General Okoye (Danai Gurira of “The Walking Dead” fame), to T’Challa’s noble mother Ramonda (Angela Bassett) to his smart-aleck, tech-whiz little sister Shuri (scene-stealer Letitia Wright), these ladies give Wakanda its vitality.
Director Ryan Coogler, who previously injected new life into the tired “Rocky” series with “Creed,” has assembled a ridiculously talented roster of supporting players like Daniel Kaluuya, Sterling K. Brown, Forest Whitaker, Martin Freeman, and Andy Serkis, who are able to find depth and complexity in even the silliest superhero stuff.
Plus, the edginess of sympathetic villain Erik Killmonger (played by the great Michael B. Jordan), a mercenary with eyes on the throne of Wakanda, who looks to spark nothing short of a planetary race war, is bold stuff for a Marvel movie.
While some of the action sequences are a little clunky, Coogler still manages to paint “Black Panther” with a stunning visual palette that makes Wakanda seem both familiar and alien at the same time.
While the plot does tread a little too far into “The Lion King” territory, the movie’s underlying theme of isolationism vs. globalism brings a relevant urgency to the screen.
It’s fair to say much like Wonder Woman, Black Panther’s blockbuster treatment is long overdue, but watching this movie, it feels like he’s arrived at the perfect time. Black Panther is the hero of the moment, a noble leader who fights for all of humanity without compromising his heritage. I can’t wait to see what he does next. Wakanda forever!
“Black Panther” is rated PG-13 for prolonged sequences of action violence, and a brief rude gesture.