“Black Panther”


            Yes, we already have a lot of superhero movies, with comic book characters brought to life through the magic of big-screen computer graphic imaging.  But this one is truly different.  And they get a lot of things right.

            First of all, the casting is superb.  Chadwick Boseman is the main character, and he has already amazed us playing Jackie Robinson in “42,” James Brown in “Get On Up,” and Thurgood Marshall in “Marshall.”  He is a top-drawer talent, as is Oscar-winning Lupita Nyong'o.  The supporting cast is also first-rate, but this is really about the story of a mythical Kingdom, Wakanda, which is “hidden in plain sight” as a Third World Country in Africa.  What the rest of the world doesn't know is that due to acess to a special kind of metal (vibranium), this peaceful kingdom is far advanced beyond the rest of the planet, and has the technology to shield its true existence from the rest of the world.  It's technologically superior, but also steeped in tradition, including a ritual mano y mano challenge for the kingship.

            Whereas the action begins in Oakland, California, we are quickly whisked to a kind of Never Never Land somewhere in Africa, where the ancient but invisible Kingdom of Wakanda is about to crown its new king, T'Challa (Boseman).  Here, we borrow from Native American folklore about consuming peyote juice and then going into some kind of hallucinogenic trance, where you get to meet your departed ancestors somewhere in their Happy Hunting Ground, and get inspiration for your new reign.  But wait, we aren't through borrowing yet.  There's some spaceships that look straight off the “Star Wars” set, and then, like Q in the James Bond series, we have a high-tech engineer who shows our hero some really cool weapons, including, in this case, an indestructible suit.  In fact, it absorbs the energy used against it and re-directs it.  Very clever.  And, to revert to “Star Wars” screenplay, we have epic battlefield scenes, but the most important combat is the Good Guy vs. the Bad Guy (Michael B. Jordan).  And in the end, after all the wrangling over who gets to sit on the throne, it's really about how you utilize the powers you are given.

            Yes, we're still going to see the Black Panther is more Avenger movies, as part of an ensemble cast with other superheroes (as we already have in “Captain America”).  But this one is the “backstory” that tells us how he's much more than one person with special abilities;  he represents an entire country, which is now ready to “come out” to the world in a way that fosters peace and cooperation among nations.  Do I hear a second for that motion?


Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, DFW Film Critics Association