Saturday, July 13, 2024

Review: Ryan Coogler’s “Black Panther” is a Marvel: Women Rule Wakanda in Hip, Funny, Black Breakthrough


I don’t subscribe to Rotten Tomatoes, but Ryan Coogler’s “Black Panther” has a 100 there as of today and I second that emotion. If this– following “Wonder Woman” — were the last super hero comic movie, I’d be happy. That’s because it’s the top of the heap, the one that was missing and now we’ve got it. Coogler– director of “Fruitvale Station” and “Creed” — has outdone himself and Marvel. This could be Marvel’s mic drop. What else is there to say?

Chadwick Boseman and Michael B. Jordan are rivals in the magic make believe African world of Wakanda. They are the Black Panther and his nemesis, Erik Killmonger. Think sort of Thor and Loki. Then there are the women around them, who rule them and run the show (although I don’t think they get that yet) played by Lupita Nyongo, Danai Gurai and Letitia Wright. These women are so terrific they could be spun off into their own movie, frankly. Plus we get Sterling K. Brown– the new male Meryl Streep– as value added.

Wakanda is an oasis, technologically forward and hidden in Africa. Boseman is T’Challa, who returns home to become king when his father dies. He summons the super powers of the Black Panther only to be challenged by Killmonger and other evil forces. That’s the basic idea, and it’s not much different from a lot of comic book movies.

But here we are in Africa, with an all star black cast, and a screenplay that is full of humor and spice. It’s the reverse of every other super hero movie you’ve ever seen in that there are basically two white characters– played by Andy Serkis and Martin Freeman– and  they are secondary to the rest of the cast. Serkis resumes his “Avengers: Age of Ultron” character of evil Ulysses Klaw, Freeman resumes his role as Agent Everett K, Ross from “Captain America: Civil War” (and it wouldn’t hurt to watch that latter movie again).

Otherwise, we are getting the creme de la creme: Angela Bassett, Forest Whittaker, Daniel Kaluuya, plus a cameo from Stan Lee. Everyone is at the top of their game. Coogler is smart– “Black Panther” is less tongue in cheek than some of the more recent Marvel offerings. This gang plays it straight because the premise is so much more Earth-bound. And Oscar nominee (“Mudbound”) Rachel Morrison’s cinematography is sensational and delicious– she’s using a palette far from the red, white and blue of “Captain America” but sharp and bright and rich.

Look for “Black Panther” to draw audiences from all over, and to usher in a new era of multicultural comic book movies. Or movies, period.

PS Yes, there is a Marvel teaser at the end. I won’t give it away.But it means you must sit through all of the end credits. And they are long.

Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman began his Showbiz411 column in April 2009 after 10 years with Fox News, where he created the Fox411 column. His movie reviews are carried by Rotten Tomatoes, and he is a member of both the movie and TV branches of the Critics Choice Awards. His articles have appeared in dozens of publications over the years including New York Magazine, where he wrote the Intelligencer column in the mid 90s and covered the OJ Simpson trial, and Fox News (when it wasn't so crazy) where he covered Michael Jackson. He is also the writer and co-producer of "Only the Strong Survive," a selection of the Cannes, Sundance, and Telluride Film festivals, directed by DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus.

Read more

In Other News