By Mark Greczmiel
It was back in 1966 when the Marvel comic book character of "Black Panther" was first introduced. It's taken a quite a long time to bring the king and defender of the fictional African nation of Wakanda to the big screen. Actor Wesley Snipes tried throughout the 1990s to play the part but was ultimately unsuccessful. The character was finally introduced in 2016's, "Captain America: Civil War" and now gets to be front and center in this latest film from the ever-expanding Marvel Universe of films.
Chadwick Boseman ("Marshall," "Get on Up," and "42") plays the title character, who starts out as Prince T'Challa in a highly-advanced African country that has managed to hide its existence from the rest of the world. He becomes King after the death of his father, and finds his list of duties and obligations, quickly expanding. And thanks to a local herb, he also enjoys enhanced physical powers which are amped up even more by his high-tech Black Panther suit. These new abilities arrive in a timely manner because he must contend with threats to his rule, both from within the country and from the outside. Boseman does an excellent job portraying his character's journey of transformation, which includes confusion, fear, and a growing sense of mission.
Director Ryan Coogler ("Creed" and "Fruitvale Station") co-wrote the script with Joe Robert Cole ("American Crime Story") and they have populated the story with a long list of great characters who are portrayed by some top notch actors The bigger names include the wonderful Angela Bassett as the new king's mother, Forest Whitaker as his wise uncle, and Lupita Nyong'o ("Twelve Years a Slave") as a highly-skilled spy (and love-interest) who is front and center in some of the movie's big fight scenes.
But many of the most memorable moments in the film come from the supporting cast which includes Letitia Wright ("The Commuter") as Black Panther's very smart and slightly smart-ass younger sister who is whiz at creating high-tech devices for her brother to utilize. Other stand-outs are Danai Guira ("The Walking Dead") as the head of the nation's female special forces whose character seethes duty and determination, as well as Winston Duke as the leader of another tribe who may or may not be on the side of the new king.
Director Coogler turned to Michael B. Jordan - his star from "Creed" and "Fruitvale Station" - to play the main villain - a man with a long-simmering resentment against Wakanda's ruling family. Too often movie villains don't have a lot of dimension, but Jordan manages to bring a surprising amount of sympathy to his character.
"Black Panther" impresses on a number of levels. It's not a superhero movie that happens to be populated by a mainly African-American cast. Instead, it's an excellent story filled with family drama and intrigue that combines elements from a number of movies including "Star Wars," "The Lion King," and James Bond. And oh yes, there are a lot of great superhero moments that thankfully don't go overboard by featuring visuals effects that wear out their welcome by going on and on.
"Black Panther" is a worthy addition to the Marvel family of movies.
4 popcorn boxes out of 4
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