BLACK PANTHER review by Mark Walters – Marvel introduces a next level big screen superhero

BLACK PANTHER review by Mark Walters – Marvel introduces a next level big screen superhero

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Let’s face it, the Marvel superhero film is getting a little tired. That’s not to say they aren’t still fun, but it’s very much reached a point where we’ve kind of seen everything one might expect, with little to no surprises at this point. In CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR, I found myself almost mentally checking out during the fight scenes, as they seemed like more of the same existing only to fill time before we reached the end of the story. We’ve hit a point now where some of the most exciting moments are the introductions of new characters, and one of the strongest to hit in that film was T’Challa / Black Panther, played by Chadwick Boseman. His intro wasn’t done just to spice things up though, as Marvel Studios knew their next effort in the Earth-based superhero line was a BLACK PANTHER movie, which hits theaters this weekend. Ryan Coogler (CREED) is the director on this one, and the cast includes Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Martin Freeman, Daniel Kaluuya, Angela Bassett, Forest Whitaker, Andy Serkis, Florence Kasumba, John Kani, Winston Duke, Sterling K. Brown, and Letitia Wright. Being a big fan of the character in the comics, I wanted this to be a phenomenal film, and I definitely wasn’t disappointed.

Opening with a animated flashback showing how many years ago a cosmic stone that produces vibranium (the same substance Captain America’s shield is made from) landed in Africa and created a technologically-advance civilization, we learn this would become the land of Wakanda. But before we arrive there, we’re taken to another flashback in New York City a few decades ago, where we see the original Black Panther, T’Chaka, tracking down his brother (played by THIS IS US star Sterling K. Brown), who is selling weapons in secret. T’Chaka must bring him down, but doesn’t know the ramifications this will bring many years later. In the present, T’Challa (Boseman) is still coping with his father’s shocking death (which happened in CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR), and now must become king of Wakanda, which has flourished over time as a secret advanced society hidden from the outside world. We learn that the various territories of Wakanda house unique tribes, and even King T’Challa can be challenged for his throne… though few would ever try. Flanked by spear-weilding warrior women, the king regularly visits the common people when he’s able, and we see his strong bonds with the leaders of each territory. When he’s not overseeing his ruling duties, T’Challa stops slave-trading African soldiers as The Black Panther, splitting his days as King of Wakanda and nighttime superhero.

A mission at a casino in Seoul, Korea, brings T’Challa together with C.I.A. Agent Everett K. Ross (Martin Freeman, reprising his role from CIVIL WAR), both trying to capture smuggler Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis, who played this same role in AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON) who is holding on to some stolen vibranium. It quickly becomes apparent the Klaue knows a lot about Wakanda and its king, but he’s broken out by Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan), a man who is no stranger to death and killing and feels no remorse for his victims. As T’Challa questions his own destiny, Killmonger is executing a master plan to de-throne him, which threatens the lives of all who live in Wakanda, and the secrets they’ve held for so many years.

Trying to describe BLACK PANTHER to someone is not easy, as it is unlike almost any other superhero film, and that’s a very good thing. Sure, there’s comparable elements to something like IRON MAN or perhaps THOR, but the presentation is so unique and inspired that it really feels like we’re seeing something special and new. The futuristic land of Wakanda is breathtaking and almost magical, like peering into some sort of hi-tech fever dream, complete with hover trains sweeping through tunnels in giant cylindrical buildings. But there’s also simple African-inspired settings that feel very classic and nature-driven. We get the sense that while Wakanda is highly advanced as a society, there is still room for the old ways of simple living, and even the rituals the king and his elders partake in appear sometimes ancient in tradition and execution. When T’Challa is challenged for rule, for example, he drinks a mixture that removes his mystical powers so he can fight as a normal man, and if he wins his power is restored with a mind-expanding ceremony.

Chadwick Boseman finds a solid balance of royal persona and quiet hero, humble when necessary and flawed enough to be interesting. He exhibits an elegance in this role, and really brings the character to life in a way that’s fresh and fun. Michael B. Jordan is excellent as the villainous Killmonger, definitely one of the better Marvel baddies for the big screen. When you realize his motivations, you almost ‘get it’ or at least feel that he’s somewhat justified in his actions. It’s a fascinating concept for the antagonist that is so much more upon its full reveal that what you’d ever guess it to be. And Jordan plays it masterfully, exuding psychotic confidence and a direct agenda that makes him a force to be reckoned with. Lupita Nyong’o is great as T’Challa’s love interest and confidant, Nakia, who struggles with her feelings for the new king, but is determined to protect him too. Danai Gurira is wonderful as Okoye, the leader of T’Challa’s female soldiers, kicking almost as much butt as her king, and looking amazing while doing it. We’ve seen Gurira be a badass weekly on THE WALKING DEAD playing Michonne, but she transcends that tough girl persona here, portraying a confident woman of battle that could easily command her own movie. Andy Serkis is fun and nasty as Klaue, Angela Bassett is regal and endearing as Ramonda (T’Challa’s mother), Daniel Kaluuya is awesome as doubtful tribe leader W’Kabi, and Martin Freeman is perfect as Ross. I wanted a little more from Forest Whitaker as Zuri (T’Challa’s sort of spiritual advisor), though what is on display here was terrific. But the name you’ll be hearing a lot more on is Letitia Wright as the King’s sister Shuri. She’s sort of the “Q” to T’Challa’s James Bond, but quirky and funny, instantly stealing every scene she’s in with bubbly charm. She even gets some kick-ass moments toward the end, and is awesome playing the master of Wakanda’s technology… she’s easily my favorite character in this film, and that’s saying a lot as almost every character in this story is fantastic.

Ryan Coogler had a daunting task trying to bring this complex tale together as director and co-writer, capturing the grandeur of a mythical land populated by exotic tribes, and juggling a large mix of exciting personalities in a globe-trotting narrative. BLACK PANTHER feels like a 007 movie at times in its ambitious action, but then shows you something wild and unexpected that just blows you away. What I liked most about the movie is it consistently surprised me, never seeming content to just follow a formula or deliver a cheap thrill. Every character gets their glory moment, and every scene feels important and necessary, for the most part. At two hours and 14 minutes, it does feel a tad long at times, but the presentation is so grand it’s forgivable. Even the powerful score by Ludwig Göransson feels like a character in the film. This production is meant to set up a new phase for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and it appears to do just that… by the end you realize that this smartly self-contained story is actually leading into some new and exciting possibilities for future tales, and it does so in a very organic and smart way. I’m not saying BLACK PANTHER is the best Marvel movie ever made, but it’s definitely near the top.

BLACK PANTHER opens February 16, 2018

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About the Author

Born and raised in Dallas, Mark has been a movie critic since 1994, with reviews featured in print, radio and National TV. In 2001 he started the Entertainment section of the Herorealm website, where he contributed film reviews and celebrity interviews until 2004. After three years of service there, he started, which has become one of the Dallas film community's leading information websites. Bigfanboy hosts several movie screenings in the Texas area, and works closely with film and TV studios and promotional partners to host exciting events and contests. The site also features a variety of rare celebrity and filmmaker interviews, and regularly covers the film festival circuit as well. In addition to Hollywood reporting, Mark has worked for many years as an advertising and sci-fi/comic book artist. Clients have included Lucasfilm Ltd., Topps Trading Cards, The Dallas Mavericks and The Dallas Stars. From 2002 until 2015 he managed the Dallas Comic Con, Sci-Fi Expo and Fan Days events in the DFW area. He currently catalogs rare comic books and movie memorabilia for Heritage Auctions, and runs the Dallas Comic Show conventions, but remains an avid moviegoer and cinema buff.