Straight outta Wakanda

Black Panther is richly entertaining and long overdue

Starring Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o and Danai Gurira. Directed by Ryan Coogler. Cinemark 14, Feather River Cinemas, Paradise Cinema 7. Rated PG-13.
Rated 4.0

With its black superhero and predominantly black cast, and its special mixture of action fantasy and social history, Black Panther is a monumental cultural event. And a key part of its specialness is that it’s also a richly entertaining movie.

Working from the original Marvel comic book tales, writer-director Ryan Coogler (Fruitvale Station, Creed) and co-writer Joe Robert Cole have produced a very engaging mixture of action movie and epic/utopian allegory. It’s an impressively mounted production throughout, and even with elements that are routine or generic, it makes fine use of a large and appealing cast.

Chadwick Boseman has the title role. He is T’Challa, the newly coronated king of the fictional African nation of Wakanda. His Black Panther-infused superpowers derive from vibranium, the super-strong metal that is the basis of Wakanda’s radically advanced technology.

A key premise of the tale is that Wakanda has heretofore kept its highly developed civilization hidden from the rest of the world. Eventually, the new king will move to change all that, and Boseman proves to be well attuned to both the warrior and the statesman in the character.

The action spectacle is a near-abstract explosion of color, noise, CGI and rapid-fire editing. Coogler and company counter the video-game weightlessness of that imagery with bursts of dialogue from nearly a dozen distinctive characters. The action scenes generate the principle momentum, but the actors and script provide the stuff that really counts.

Key acting contributions come from Michael B. Jordan as T’Challa’s most formidable rival, Martin Freeman as a helpful but somewhat flummoxed CIA agent, Andy Serkis as an uproariously villainous arms dealer, and Letitia Wright as T’Challa’s impish little sister/sidekick.

Other standouts in the supporting cast include Lupita Nyong’o and Danai Gurira as two very imposing woman warriors, Forest Whitaker as a rather mysterious guru, Angela Bassett as the Queen Mother Ramonda, Daniel Kaluuya as T’Challa’s loyal friend, and Winston Duke as another of T’Challa’s fiercest rivals.

Longtime Marvel writer/editor/producer Stan Lee, co-creator of the original Black Panther comic character, has a rambunctious cameo as a “thirsty gambler.”