Black Panther

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   Black Panther

In "Captain America: Civil War," Wakanda's King T'Chaka (John Kani) was killed in an explosion at the UN, his son, Prince T'Challa (Chadwick Boseman), vowing vengeance. Cowriter (with Joe Robert Cole)/director Ryan Coogler ("Creed") now invites us into that event's aftermath as well as going back to the origin of the very first "Black Panther."

No, this isn't the first black Super Hero movie, but Marvel's introduction of Black Panther in 1966 was the first black man with Super Hero powers featured in comics.  The name also predated the formation of the Black Panther Party (which was named because a panther does not strike first, not for the comic), a movement which has strong parallels here,  Coogler's film tying a (fictional) African nation to racial strife in the U.S.  It also features four prominent black women every bit as strong as the man they support and every bit as important to his mission, Beauty (Lupita Nyongo'o's Nakia, the film's social conscience), Brains (Letitia Wright's Shuri, her brother's 'Q') and Brawn (Danai Gurira's Okoye, the General of T'Challa's all female army) as well as T'Challa's regal mother Ramonda (Angela Bassett).  Black Power indeed.

But is it the greatest of all Marvel movies?  That's debatable, especially given the Super Hero fatigue that Marvel has had no small hand in creating.  It certainly presents some great role models for an underserved audience while promoting an anti-nationalistic message and that's no small thing.

Wakanda has been ruled by those who've hidden its riches, a natural resource known as vibranium which powers their technology.  In the film's opening animation, we learn a meteorite made up of the stuff crashed into the African continent and a warrior which first consumed a flower fed by its fallout gained extraordinary powers, becoming the leader of the new nation of Wakanda.  The story is told with figures made up of shimmering, black, metallic dust.

Wakanda avoided the horrors of African colonialism by keeping its riches secret.  They flourished, but in a flashback, we see a young T'Chaka condemning his brother, N'Jobu (Sterling K. Brown), in Los Angeles in the early 90's as a traitor for taking the precious resource outside of the country.  In the present day, T'Challa undergoes the ritual to become Black Panther.  He is challenged by M'Baku (Winston Duke, TV's 'Persons of Interest'), who wears the mask of a great ape, but overcomes his rival for the throne after a brutal battle.  But there is another challenger to the throne, one with royal blood, and he's identified a piece of vibranium in a British museum.

Although T'Challa would like nothing better than to have Nakia as his queen, she is devoted to helping black populaces in other countries.  She does accompany him, along with Okoye, to Busan in an attempt to stop Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis) from vibranium dealing.  It's a great action sequence, Shuri remotely piloting the vehicle her brother rides atop of as Okoye spears vehicles from a car driven by Nakia.  Shuri's also created the claw necklaces which hold Black Panther's suit.  He chose the silver one, leaving the gold and after they fail to fell their enemies in Busan, Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) arrives in Wakanda in his own bid for the throne.  With the gold necklace and his heritage to back him up, a civil war breaks out, T'Challa's right hand W'Kabi (Daniel Kaluuya) siding with Killmonger.

The production is infused with African art (costume design by "Selma's" Ruth E. Carter, music by "Creed's" Ludwig Göransson), Wakanda itself a combination of idyllic African village and high tech city.  But while this is one Marvel movie which doesn't climax with the destruction of a city, its civil war suffers from some shoddy CGI and an astral plane showdown that's typical comic book fodder.  CIA agent Everett K. Ross (Martin Freeman) may help tie Black Panther into the Marvel Universe, but he seems out of place in this particular movie. There is also the nagging sense that an early injustice is not fairly righted, the piece's villain better served as T'Challa's first outreach program.

The easy-on-the-eyes Boseman isn't as confident as most Marvel Super Heroes, a characteristic which feels odd here, but may work for the character's growth.  It is the women who impress as the real ass-kickers, Gurira fierce, Nyong'o committed.  Wright is the film's lone source of humor.  The film also stars Forest Whitaker as Zuri, the Wakandans' spiritual leader (ironic given his place in Wakanda's murky past).

Coogler's found the perfect, hopeful wrap, though, circling back to both the UN and Los Angeles. Stick around for the traditional Marvel stingers, the last of which also circles back to prior events while hinting at future ones.

Grade:  B

The African Kingdom of Wakanda has prospered and developed new technologies for centuries, hidden from the rest of the world. Prince T’Challa (Bosnan Chadwick), after his father’s assassination, returns home to take his rightful place upon the throne. Unknown to the new king, a usurper will take away his kingdom and his identity as “Black Panther.”

I do not often get to see most of the prolific product produced in the Marvel Comics Universe, which is okay by me since I am not a fan (and never was). But, the hype that has preceded the release of “Black Panther” – the best Marvel movie ever! At least, according to some – and the fact that I could actually see an MCU movie before release, I was curious.

The fans, I can say with pretty good assurance, are going to love this Black Panther origins movie, and with good reason. It has all of the elements and larger-that-life superhero characters that have graced the big screen for what seems like eons. This time, there is more serious and less funny than we have become accustomed to – think “Thor: Ragnarok.”

With its story of regicide, royal intrigue and Shakespeare-style theme, everyone, even the bad guys (except for one), speak in noble intonations with a dialog that is more portentous speechifying than  people actually talking to each other. The very talented cast gives gravitas to their words, making humor tough to insert into the action. Fortunately, T’Chulla’s teenage sister, Shuri (Latitia Wright), as his super smart and inventive Q, gets the lion’s share of anything funny and makes you want more – at least, of Shuri.

Nothing that I say will may a bit of difference to the MCU fans and, especially, those of the Panther. But, as an outsider and non-fan of the Universe, I kind of enjoyed it. I give it a B.
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