Black Panther is a spectacular movie experience. See it and prepare to absorb the story combined with the special effects and a wild soundtrack by Kendrick Lamar.
Black Panther succeeds for multiple reasons. Just like Wonder Woman hit the mother lode with a female director (Patty Jenkins) and starring a heroine as opposed to a hero, Black Panther dares to challenge cinematic history by bringing us a Marvel/Disney film with a black director/screenwriter and a nearly all black cast. The film touches a raw nerve that left many in the audience applauding as it ended.
Let’s begin with Director Ryan Coogler, who previously brought us Fruitvale Station (2013) and Creed (2015). With Black Panther, Mr. Coogler departs from traditional Avenger territory by focusing his story on how Black History only became African-American history as a result of slavery.
Ironically, the storyline plays second fiddle to a large group of magnificent performances. With death of his father, Chadwick Boseman excels as T’Challa, forced to become king of Wakanda, a hidden country in Africa. As king he becomes the Black Panther, and Mr. Boseman demonstrates the talent and charm previously shown in his roles as Thurgood Marshall in last year’s Marshall (2017), the legendary singer James Brown in Get On Up (2014) and as Jackie Robinson in 42 (2013).
Wakanda is able to exist as an African version of Hong Kong as a result of its ability to use a super metal known as vibranium. Danger unfolds when a tattooed, wise-cracking white terrorist known as Ulysses Kalaue (Andy Serkis) steals some of the vibranium and seeks to sell it on the open market. Serkis once again commands your attention as he previously did playing Golum in the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit films as well as the legendary Caesar in the Planet of the Ape films.
However, the film captures its magic with the appearance of Michael B. Jordan as Erik Killmonger, an angry, bitter associate of Ulysses who intends on eliminating T’Challa and taking over the control of Wakanda. You have previously seen Mr. Jordan in both of Mr. Coogler’s prior films mentioned above, and here he is a black man who was abandoned as a child in California for reasons that I don’t dare reveal. Let me just say that Mr. Jordan’s Killmonger prefers dying to living in bondage just as some imprisoned black inmates jumped overboard centuries ago rather than face a lifetime of servitude away from a home they would never see again.
And that is precisely what makes this film resonate on such a meaningful level. Yes, it is as uniquely entertaining as both the recent Thor and Guardians of the Galaxy films but it has a meaning that will deeply resonate with nearly all black members of the audience. The bottom line is that they are living in a country as the descendants of slaves and this movie provides a glimpse of a fictional homeland that will bring many to tears.
However, one of the reasons this film set box office records on its opening weekend is the performance of a female cast that elevates the role of women in Marvel films even beyond the recent Wonder Woman. To begin with, Lupita Nyong’o plays Nakia, a spy and love interest of T’Challa who helps him maintain his focus when he nearly loses his life. Ms. Nyong’o is a terrific actress and you simply need to hunt down her performances in both 12 Years a Slave (2013) and Queen of Katwe(2016) as proof.
Additionally, Danai Gurira gives a powerful performance as Okoye, the devastating leader of the military defenders of Wakanda, and you can only imagine who could possibly win a friendly fight between her and Wonder Woman. And while Angela Bassett expectedly succeeds in a small role where she plays T’Challa’s mother, you will never forget Letitia Wright’s plucky role as T’Challa’s younger sister Shuri. Inspiring and funny in multiple scenes, you welcome her presence whenever she appears on screen to assist her brother.
While there are other enjoyable moments provided by both Martin Freeman as a CIA agent trying to help T’Challa and Forrest Whitaker as Wakanda’s Keeper of the Sacred Code, the magnificent interaction of the above characters evolves in a fashion seldom seen in a Marvel film. The wildly hypnotic scenes taking place on a sheer cliff surrounded by a waterfall where you see multiple Wakanda residents dancing and chanting to Kendrick Lamar’s soundtrack rivals the music and choreography that dominated The Greatest Showman.
On top of that, Mr. Coogler has his film face one important question. If an African country excelled on the world’s stage in the same fashion as the United States or China, wouldn’t they have an obligation to try to help the millions of struggling residents in the States who still bear the ugly scars of a sadistic slavery system that only ended approximately 150 years ago?