Marvel’s Black Panther – Best (black/superhero) movie ever?

Chadwick Bozeman (at left) is T’Challa the who faces off with his arch enemy Erik Killmonger played by Michael B. Jordan (at right) in Marvel’s Black Panther. (photo: Marvel)

Marvel’s Black Panther is a unique and record-setting phenomenon of a film that features a predominately Black cast, starring an African King who is also a superhero, a brilliant scholar, a warrior, and a diplomat. In Marvel’s Black Panther, T’Challa (Chadwick Bozeman) returns home as the new king of Wakanda but finds his sovereignty challenged by a set of adversaries in a conflict that has global consequences.The 2018 American superhero film is based on the Marvel Comics character of the same name, produced by Marvel Studios and distributed by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures, becoming the eighteenth film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU).

Black Panther was the first superhero of African descent in mainstream American comics, having debuted years before the early African American superheroes such as Marvel Comics’ Falcon (1969) and Luke Cage (1972) or DC Comics’ John Stewart in the role of Green Lantern (1971) or Black Lightning (1977). The character T’Challa was created by writer-editor and Marvel icon Stan Lee and writer-artist Jack Kirby, first appearing in Fantastic Four #52 (July 1966) in the Silver Age of Comic Books. The Black Panther is the protector of the fictional African nation called Wakanda. Wakanda is the most technologically advanced nation on planet Earth due to its exclusive mineral resource of Vibranium, an extraterrestrial gift to the nation from a huge meteor which struck there centuries ago. Along with possessing enhanced abilities achieved through ancient Wakandan rituals, T’Challa also relies on his proficiency in science, rigorous physical training, hand-to-hand combat skills, and access to wealth and advanced technology to combat his enemies.

Marvel’s Black Panther the film premiered in Los Angeles on January 29, 2018, and is set to be released in the United States officially on Friday, February 16, 2018, in several formats, including IMAX and 3D variations, with sold out advance screenings across the country held on Thursday, February 15. The film has already received universal critical acclaim, with high praise for the direction, the costume design, the insane action sequences, its exquisite score, and the stellar performances by the cast. Many critics and fans are simply declaring it to be absolutely one of, if not the, best films set in the MCU.

The film was directed by Ryan Coogler (Fruitvale Station, Creed) from a screenplay co-written by Coogler with Joe Robert Cole (American Crime Story). It stars Chadwick Boseman (42, Get On Up, Marshall) as T’Challa / Black Panther, with Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Martin Freeman, Daniel Kaluuya, Letitia Wright, Winston Duke, Angela Bassett, Forest Whitaker, and Andy Serkis in the main principal roles. T’Challa / the Black Panther movie character first appeared in Marvel’s Captain America: Civil War in 2016. After the events of Captain America: Civil War, King T’Challa returns home to Wakanda. But when two enemies conspire to bring down the kingdom, T’Challa must team up, as the Black Panther, with CIA agent Everett K. Ross and members of the Dora Milaje—Wakanda’s all-female special forces—to prevent a world war.

Here’s a basic who’s who to help orient you when you see the film, and you will. Chadwick Boseman is T’Challa / Black Panther. He is the king of the fictional African nation of Wakanda, who gains enhanced strength by ingesting the Heart-Shaped Herb, imbued with mystical properties by the motherlode of vibranium, an estraterrestrial mineral which came to Africa in a meteorite centuries ago. After the events of Captain America: Civil War, and the death of his father T’Chaka, T’Challa is in mourning while ascending to the throne. He faces two main antagonists in his quest to secure his kingdom.

Michael B. Jordan is Erik “Killmonger” Stevens, a Wakandan exile who became an American black-ops soldier and seeks to overthrow T’Challa. Killmonger has his own opinion on how Wakanda has been run and should be run. Jordan has likened Killmonger and T’Challa’s relationship to the X-Men characters Magneto and Professor X. While it is not addressed in the film, it is interesting to note that in comic book lore, Stan Lee has said that he modeled the conflict between, and the characters, Magneto and Professor X after Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr., respectively.

Lupita Nyong’o is Nakia, T’Challa’s (former?) lover and a covert operative of the Dora Milaje, the all-female special forces of Wakanda who serve as T’Challa’s bodyguards. She is from the River Tribe. While there are 18 tribes in Wakanda in the comics, there are only five in the film. Danai Gurira is Okoye, an “extremely proud” Wakandan and traditionalist from the Border Tribe, who is the head of the Dora Milaje. Gurira has said that the fighting skills she learned playing Michonne on AMC’s “The Walking Dead” complemented the skills of Okoye, but that “there’s a lot of ways that they’re extremely different … Okoye is a whole ‘nother thing.” Gurira has described the Dora Milaje as a secret service that is “also very much about intel. It’s not just military,” with Okoye the head of intel.

Martin Freeman is Everett K. Ross, a member of the CIA and former liaison of its Joint Counter Terrorism Task Force. Freeman has said that Ross “has an uneasy peace with T’Challa”, and that he “goes on a strange journey, an enlightening journey to Wakanda.” Fans may recognize Freeman from his work in the Hobbit films and as Dr. Watson on the BBC’s wildly popular Sherlock series, seen in the US on PBS Masterpiece Mystery.

Daniel Kaluuya (who recently starred in Get Out) is W’Kabi, a confidante to T’Challa and his best friend, who is the head of security for the Border Tribe, the first line of defense for Wakanda. The delighful Letitia Wright is Shuri, T’Challa’s 16-year-old sister and the princess of Wakanda, who designs new technology for the country; she is likely the smartest person in the world, even more so than Tony Stark. Some have noted that the James Bond motifs in the Black Panther make Shuri the “Q” to T’Challa’s ))& and Ross his Felix Leiter. There is even a casino scene followed by a car chase scene that really bring this home.

Winston Duke is M’Baku, a powerful, ruthless warrior who is the leader of Wakanda’s mountain tribe, the Jabari, who are in protest to T’Challa being the new king. Angela Bassett is Ramonda, T’Challa’s mother and the Queen Mother of Wakanda. Forest Whitaker is Zuri, an elder statesman in Wakanda, and the keeper of the Heart-Shaped Herb, which bestows the super power of the Black Panther. Coogler has called Zuri a religious and spiritual figure, and a way to reference the spirituality within Wakanda from the comics. He also added that Zuri “is a major tie back” to T’Chaka for T’Challa, and is “Black Panther’s version of Obi-Wan Kenobi.”

Andy Serkis is Ulysses Klaue, a South African black-market arms dealer, smuggler and gangster, who is allied with Killmonger and is T’Challa’s other main antagonist. He uses a piece of advanced Wakandan mining equipment modified to act as a sonic disruptor arm-cannon. Serkis has said that in addition to his desire for vibranium, Klaue is motivated by a “personal” vendetta against T’Challa, and “to expose what he thinks is the hypocrisy of Wakanda.”

Florence Kasumba and John Kani reprise their roles as Ayo and T’Chaka respectively from Captain America: Civil War. Sterling K. Brown (award winning actor on NBC’s “This Is Us”) plays N’Jobu, a significant and pivotal figure from T’Challa’s past. Isaach de Bankolé plays the elder of one of the largest tribes in Wakanda, Sydelle Noel portrays Xoliswa, a member of the Dora Milaje, and Connie Chuene portrays a mining elder. And of course, Black Panther co-creator Stan Lee has his usual funny and interesting cameo in the film.

Marvel’s Black Panther runs 134 action-packed minutes (that’s 2 hours, 14 minutes) that end waaaay too soon! The film is rated PG-13 for prolonged sequences of action violence, and a brief rude gesture (seriously, for the finger? Yes, for the finger!). SO, it is essentially kid-friendly in that there is no nudity, no sexual content, nor any crude or profane language. It will probably make its reported $200 million cost back in the first two weeks of release. It really does deliver adult / mature themes without unnecessary ‘adult’ language.

Among those themes are the weight of the crown, with the notion that being and becoming a monarch is neither an easy nor an unconflicted task. The parallels to Game of Thrones join those with James Bond and other classic and modern media properties in that respect. Some may find Shakespeaerean elements at play as well.

In its early pre-release days those who saw it gave it a 100% score on Rotten Tomatoes through its first 66 reviews; with over 120 reviews received at press time Wednesday, February 14, only 3 had been negative, for a 98% score. The Critics Consensus was: “Black Panther elevates superhero cinema to thrilling new heights while telling one of the MCU’s most absorbing stories — and introducing some of its most fully realized characters.” BTW I read the three ‘negative’ reviews; even they were like 3/5 and 2.5/5 stars!

Our friend Lucas Leverett says, “The big and small screens have given us very respectable chapters of diversity in the comic book genre, but this one is a huge volume, worthy of more than just respect – it can be worshipped. Black Panther is a great story which organically tackles issues that are important and current, without being preachy or easy to target by the few but often loud voices of those who would otherwise preserve a blindness to racial balance.”

Cassandra Teague Walker says, “I’ve never read a Marvel comic or seen a Marvel movie. This movie is a standalone piece of film as literature with traditional themes of spirituality and mythology. It is visually stunning and a must see for the entire family.”

My friend Sekou Morrison has written essays on the film for Essence magazine and the Cassius website. Please read his works there uner the pen name SekouWrites for more insights.

The film really does deliver on its $200 million investment with an absolutely amazing visual and auditory experience that is emotionally and viscerally fulfilling, with something for everybody, and some very special “Black Girl Magic” with powerful and spectacular parts of the film involving the women of Wakanda.

If you see no other film this year, see this one, and go see it now, in a theater, and maybe even eat before you go and skip the popcorn and soda and treat yourself to the IMAX 3D version.. you won’t wanna waste time and energy eating anyway! Also, check online or call ahead to make sure your intended screening isn’t sold out, and get there early… with the new recliner seats, there are fewer seats in each theater and the “good” seats fill up fast!

I also highly recommend that you (re)watch 2016’s Marvel’s Captain America: Civil War on dvd or Netflix or however you can before you go see Marvel’s Black Panther, because it serves as a prequel to the new film and serves as an introduction to some of the main characters so you can dive right ind and have a fundamental understanding of the world the movie is set in. And, do not leave immediately after the film ends when the credits roll, because there are TWO important scenes, a mid-credits scene and a post-credits scene that you should not miss!

Wakanda forever!