“Black Panther” is a movie that we need now more than ever. A film packed with heroes, strong role models and a critical social message.
And, on top of that, it’s fun as hell — an action-packed adventure with impressive stunts, great battle scenes, awesome gadgets and a great sense of humor.
T’Challa, aka Black Panther (played powerfully by Chadwick Boseman), graduates to his own film after a solid supporting role in “Avengers: Civil War.” After his father, T’Chaka (John Kani), was killed in that film, T’Challa is set to ascend to the throne of the African country Wakanda, ruling the nation of five tribes.
To the outside world, Wakanda is unimportant, just another developing country without much to offer. But in reality, Wakanda is a technological marvel, built on a vast store of the metal Vibranium, a powerful resource that has allowed the country to thrive in isolation, with vast, beautiful cities hidden from outsiders by a power-shielding technology.
Vibranium is a precious and powerful metal, and it should be familiar to viewers of the Marvel Cinematic Universe as the metal that makes Captain America’s shield. It’s also an expensive commodity, one that Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis, in a rare live-action performance) is hot to get. He enlists the aid of highly trained soldier Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) to help him acquire more Vibranium, though Killmonger has some plans of his own.
Black Panther is a great big-screen hero, with a cool, jet-black suit and claws. But it’s the trio of women surrounding him that really steal the show. His ex-girlfriend Nakia (the always wonderful Lupita Nyong’o) is a spy with the agenda of making the world a better place, not wanting to be stuck sitting on a throne in Wakanda. Okoye (Danai Gurira, deadly good) is the general of the elite guards known as the Dora Milaje. T’Challa’s sister Shuri (Letitia Wright, playful and charismatic), might just be the smartest person in the world (sorry, Tony Stark) and, in James Bond terms, is the Q of this movie, coming up with all sorts of cool weapons, vehicles and gadgets.
Putting aside the excellent heroics and action, “Black Panther” is a film that provides a different perspective from the previous 17 films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Deftly directed by Ryan Coogler (“Creed,” “Fruitvale Station”), working from a script he cowrote with Joe Robert Cole (“American Crime Story: The People v. OJ Simpson”), the film touches on of-the-moment issues of isolationism and social consciousness. Motivations aren’t based on some literal alien invasion or mythic threat, rather on issues of equality and vengeance for discrimination.
But the film never gets muddled down in a message. It’s a fluid adventure through a real wonderland, with brutal action sequences and seriously funny moments.
One of the reasons that the Marvel movies have succeeded is that they’ve managed to offer a different experience from film to film. “Captain America: The First Avenger” feels nothing like “Ant-Man,” which feels nothing like “Thor: Ragnarok.” All good movies; all move the story along in their unique way.
“Black Panther” certainly moves the story along — in fact, it continues in “Avengers: Infinity War,” coming May 4, followed by, surely, a hundred more of these things. A film like “Black Panther” — a dynamic action film with a focused, timely message — is what keeps this ever-growing franchise fresh.