Since the beginning of its genre, there haven’t been enough opportunities for racial diversity in Superhero films. There was Michael Jai White starring as Spawn and Wesley Snipes for Blade. But there have been dozens of Superhero films in the last 20 years and so we welcome Black Panther in making a difference by having a huge cast, a director, and setting that stem from African origins. The movie is a rousing experience. It’s got a story with heavy motivations such as the sharing of natural resources and resolving old familial conflicts. It doesn’t rely only on sensational CGI which is becoming detrimental to Marvel films. This one begins with history and orients us with a fictional place called Wakanda where tribal and futuristic lifestyles coexist. But it’s closed off from the world. The King T’Challa fears that their extraordinary metal called Vibranium will be exploited by foreigners and used for dangerous weapons manufacturing. This metal is part of Wakandas technology, including the creation of the Kings flexible armor that disguises him as the Black Panther – As this catlike figure he operates in covert rescue missions. But the entire Wakanda situation becomes unstable with the arrival of a malicious outsider who lays claim to the dominion of the kingdom.
Starring as King T’Challa is Chadwick Boseman who looks more kind than authoritative but has firm principles. By taking a special native herb, he is granted physically abilities. Daniel Kaluuya plays his loyal aid standing by his side. Forest Whitaker is their wiseman who knows the family secrets. And alongside them with various military roles are Danai Gurira, Letitia Wright, and Lupita Nyong’o, the latter being the Kings former lover. And there’s Martin Freeman as a CIA op who teams up with Black Panther. On opposition, there is a tribe leader played by Winston Duke whose seriousness seems to diminish as the story goes. And the villain to worry about is Killmonger played by Michael B. Jordan from Creed. He’s got big schemes and somehow gained knowledge about Vibranium. Working with him is a weapons dealer performed by Andy Serkis with sinister relish and a robotic hand. The action scenes for the most part have a fresh excitement to them. One might notice how the female characters and setting play a big role in these sequences. Such examples include Gurira and Nyong’o’s extensive car chase that goes from a bridge and through the urban streets of South Korea. And there’s a dozen waterfalls as a backdrop for the ritual battles of the King. But one joy is in the frequent transitions from action to the quiet moments. There’s a softhearted relationship between the King and Nyong’o which serves as a counterpoint to the hardened scenes of Killmonger’s cruelty. But, sigh, the movie contains the staple problem of some Marvel films which is a never ending battle at the finale. This one happens in the wide plains of Wakanda and couldn’t be less exciting than imagining two characters playing checkers. Hopefully Marvel writers will decide one day that a single combat in the end would suffice. Otherwise Black Panther, written by director Ryan Coogler and Joe Robert Cole, succeeds on that which matters more, on the story level and the performances. It’s better than what one might expect from a typical superhero film.