In Brief: Over 20-years in the making. Not the best nor worst Marvel movie but still worth the wait.
Black Panther is the latest of the Marvel Comics heroes to be immortalized in cinema. From the time the concept was tossed around in 1992 by Wesley Snipes until now it’s been on Marvel fan minds. Now it’s here and — while not perfect — it’s worth the wait.
Here’s the premise. It starts with a meteorite hitting the African nation of Wakanda eons ago. In the meteorite is a metal called vibranium. The substance gave the country technological advantages unheard of throughout the world. To keep the vibranium and the technology from being abused, Wakandans have kept it to themselves.
Wakandan leaders also decided to keep the nation hidden as well.
The film’s set-up starts in 1992 when a Wakandan king kills a Wakandan prince when the prince goes to the — pardon the fantasy-sci-fi figure of speech — dark side. After the killing the story switches gears and picks up in modern times and where Captain America: Civil War left off.
Chadwick Boseman’s T’Challa is crowned king of Wakanda after the assassination of his father. Vowing to be a good king, T’Challa not only deals with the challenge of ruling and some forces within Wakanda, he faces the most dangerous threat of all from Michael B. Jordan’s outsider, Erik Killmonger.
That’s all you need to know.
I don’t normally pay that much attention casting or the acting of the CGI-dominated Marvel movies. However, this film has positives. They start with the charismatic Boseman. Many of you will find it odd that I describe him as charismatic because I’ve complained about his acting since the Jackie Robinson biopic 42. I was even more critical of last year’s Marshall which put an early career victory of former Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall onto the big screen.
Boseman’s line-shouting delivery in both films seems better suited to a stage than a movie.
While the shouting delivery managed to irritate more than ingratiate, there is — however — something electric about him. That almost indefinable trait gives Black Panther a nice edge. Plus, Boseman adopts and sticks with a nicely done African accent and he is buff enough to believably pull off the non-CGI stunts.
Joining the — dare we say — battle is an equally electric Jordan. He’s been a favorite of co-writer and director Ryan Coogler. Jordan was incredible in Coogler’s exceptional flick Fruitvale Station and in 2015’s Rocky Balboa sequel Creed.
Jordan’s natural, believable and easy delivery is perfect for the villainous Killmonger.
The cast’s best — and most — fun is found in its female members. Lupita Nyong’o continues a career packed with excellent choices. She’s wonderfully serious as Nakia, T’Challa’s ex-girlfriend. Angela Basset is always Angela Basset and she plays T’Challa’s super serious mom.
The two best performances belong to Danai Guria (TV’s The Walking Dead) who plays the woman leading Wakanda’s military. She gives one of those great intensity on steroids performances that is perfectly offset by Letitia Wright who does T’Challa’s goofy techno-geek sister, Shuri. In smaller but important roles are Martin Freeman and Andy Serkis (both of The Hobbit) and Forest Whitaker.
As a story, Black Panther is in the middle of the super hero pack. It’s pretty hard, after what is now 18 Marvel movies to come up with a plot that doesn’t go from A-to-B-to-C and on down to Z in about the same way. Yeah, the characters and settings are different but really, this is a super hero movie plot and they all have that same story trajectory.
Like all but the last Thor flick, Thor: Ragnarok, this one is half-an-hour too long but it’s hard to resist not padding it for time when all those great special effects were shot to pack into the plot.
Why waste them?
It’s a minor complaint because while the film is too long, the cinematography and the special effects drive this movie and drive it hard. BTW, I loved the waterfall best. Sorry. I digress. Black Panther has few slow spots. What’s missing — and what many of the Marvel and D.C. super hero movies miss — is a sense of humor. This one is pretty dry and, as one comment I heard recently put so eloquently, Boseman’s Black Panther could use a sidekick.
Coogler overcomes the lack of humor and a sidekick by building intensity and putting a lot of energy into his film. They more than offset the slow spots and make this one worth a shot. Oh, and Stan Lee’s cameo is one of his best and gives Black Panther its only laugh.
Director: Ryan Coogler
Stars: Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o, Angela Bassett, Forest Whitaker, Andy Serkis, Danai Guria, Martin Freeman, Letitia Wright, Stan Lee, Winston Duke, Daniel Kaluuya, Sterling K. Brown
Rated PG-13 for mature themes and some violence. While not the best Marvel movie ever, it’s not the worst either. Give this one a 3 1/2 on the Average Joe Movie 0 to 5 scale.
5 to 4 1/2: Must see on the big screen.
4 to 3 1/2: Good film, see it if it’s your type of movie.
3 to 2 1/2: Wait until it comes out on DVD.
2 to 1: Don’t bother.
0:Speaks for itself.
Gary Wolcott has been a movie consultant for KXL since 2014. A lifelong fan of film, he’s been a film critic in radio, television and newspaper for 25-years. Wolcott catches a couple of hundred movies a year and he sees a great many of them so you don’t have to.
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