Remember when superheroes were primarily of interest only to nerdy white boys?
I do. I was there. Showing your love for Batman did not make you a popular kid in elementary or high school, I assure you.
But somewhere along the line, things changed. And now we live in a world where people throw online fits because “Wonder Woman” didn’t get any Academy Award nominations. A world where an actor playing a superhero in a new movie is currently on the cover of “Time” magazine. A world where that film — “Black Panther” — is poised to earn more than $150 million at the box office this weekend. In February.
Welcome, rest of the world. We knew you’d catch up with us nerdy white boys eventually.
So, “Black Panther.” Marvel Studio’s 18th movie in 10 years and its first with a black lead and a majority black cast. This makes it important, if you haven’t got the word. A lot of people have waited a long time for this moment. Good thing it lives up to expectations.
Chadwick Boseman stars as T’Challa, soon to be crowned king of the mysterious African nation of Wakanda. T’Challa, also known as the Black Panther, joined the Marvel Cinematic Universe in 2016 in “Captain America: Civil War,” where his father was killed in a bombing. Now, T’Challa has returned home to take his father’s place on the throne.
But first, a history lesson: Many years ago a large meteorite made of vibranium — the strongest metal in the world — crash landed in Wakanda. Over the decades the Wakandans used vibranium to create for themselves a technological utopia, far advanced and hidden away from the rest of the world. I’m not sure how a big hunk of rock can do all that, but hey kids, comics!
The only outsider to ever get into Wakanda, steal vibranium, and escape, is arms dealer Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis). Klaue has formed an alliance with an American black-ops soldier named Erik “Killmonger” Stevens (Michael B. Jordan). Klaue wants more vibranium to sell while Erik wants to get into Wakanda for more personal reasons.
T’Challa is surrounded by a complex ensemble of characters, all played superbly by the actors involved: Angela Bassett as the regal Royal Mother; Letitia Wright as Shuri, T’Challa’s little sister and the country’s chief scientist; Lupita Nyong’o as Nakia, love interest and undercover operative; Danai Gurira as Okoye, head of security; Daniel Kaluuya as W’Kabi, the king’s confidant and head of his border guards; and Forest Whitaker as Zuri, elder statesman and longtime family friend.
Rounding out the cast are Winston Duke as M’Batu, chief of a rival tribe; and Martin Freeman as Everett Ross, a CIA agent who serves as the outsider (aka white person) point of view.
“Black Panther” is another solid entry in the Marvel canon and one of the better-made comic book movies. The villains (Klaue and Killmonger) are, for a change, more rounded and charismatic. The story has more depth and bite than usual. The movie isn’t afraid to address tough and uncomfortable issues.
But like so many superhero movies, the final reel is an overdone orgy of fighting and explosions. I’m still not sure what was going down with the Black Panthers’ throw-down on the rail line.
But what truly makes “Black Panther” stand out is how black it is. Directed by Ryan Coogler, the film revels in African landscapes (real and futuristic), costumes, music, attitude and style.