Reviewed by Galen Strickland
I'm writing this on February 16, after seeing Black Panther last night. I'll attempt to keep this as spoiler free as possible, although for a few comments there will probably be some who can read between the lines. The story itself is not that original, but it's redeemed by the acting, the set design, and costuming. Bottom line, I liked this a lot, and do recommend it. I'll deduct a few points for a complaint I have about most CGI-heavy films: many of the action scenes are a jumble, a blur of characters and weapons, it's hard to distinguish details. That might not be a problem with an IMAX or 3D showing, but I saw the standard 2D, and unfortunately was closer to the screen than I would have liked.
I am unfamiliar with the history of the Black Panther comics, having only read the first volume of Ta-Nehisi Coates' recent "A Nation Under Our Feet." A current title I'm definitely interested in is "Long Live the King" by Nnedi Okorafor, since I love everything of her's I've read. As background, the basis of Wakanda's strength is a vein of vibranium, supposedly the strongest metal known, which derives from a meteor that fell on their land long ago. The metal must also have other properties, because it powers all of their advance tech, including medical marvels. It might also have caused a genetic change in a particular plant, as an elixir derived from it provides Black Panther his strength and recuperative powers. Another factor in Wakanda's history is it didn't suffer from European colonization, which is hard to believe. Yes, they have been able to create an invisibility cloak around their greatest city so that it appears only as more jungle, but I doubt that would have stopped explorers from stumbling across the vibranium mines. It certainly didn't stop Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis) from stealing a vibranium sample, but he apparently had help or information garnered from a Wakandan spy.
T'Challa (Chadwick Boseman), aka Black Panther, has ascended to the throne as the new King of Wakanda, following his father's death at the hands of terrorists, as seen in Captain America: Civil War. His mother, Ramonda, is played by the legendary Angela Bassett, and his chief advisor is Zuri (Forest Whitaker). Their loyalty to each other, to Wakanda, to its traditions and history, is palpable. They don't always see eye-to-eye though, and some of their disagreements frame powerfully emotional scenes. This also applies in a mystical dream sequence between T'Challa and his father T'Chaka (John Kani). Lots of strong female characters, including members of the elite security force, the Dora Milaje. So many great Black actors, both African-born, as well as American and British, but I won't name check them all. For two in particular, a couple of my favorites from recent years, I'll only say that neither survives to the end. As for the ones I've already identified, they are well established talent, but there are also some newer faces, and one of those was my favorite character. Letitia Wright plays T'Challa's sister Shuri, extremely intelligent, vivacious, even playfully condescending to her brother while explaining some of the new techical marvels she has created. I am happy that she and several others will recur in the upcoming Avengers film in a few months. What could be better than two trips to Wakanda in the same year?
I love that Wakanda has prospered with advanced technology, but has not lost sight of its heritage and traditions, which is most evident in the costuming and in several rituals. The crux of the plot revolves around whether or not it had been wise for Wakanda to withhold its secrets from the world. Their technology could have revolutionized scientific and medical research, as well as transportation and educational techniques in general. Of course, any advance tech can also be used in weaponry, and Wakanda has done so, but this seems to be what most loyal Wakandans feared, that it would be used for conquest rather than enlightenment. What will happen now that T'Challa has made the decision to come forward with the information? I'm anxious to find out. Marvel had already announced there would be sequels, and that Ryan Coogler would still be directing, even before today's news that Black Panther's advance screenings have placed it at the top of non-summer openings, and second only to 2015's Age of Ultron.
Long Live Black Panther! Wakanda Forever!
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