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.