It’s great to have a superhero film that doesn’t look like every other superhero film.
There’s no Iron Man lurking, no Loki in the wings. There’s not even a strong tie to The Avengers saga.
What there is in "Black Panther" is a crackling good story in a new world that’s grappling with problems not unlike those we face in the United States today.
This, thanks to director Ryan Coogler, is the allegory “Avatar” should have been.
Set in Wakanda, an African country with rich natural resources, “Black Panther” pulls together so many storylines you could see this spilling out – on its own – for years.
Chadwick Boseman, a veteran of such historical dramas as “Get Up,” “Marshall” and “42,” gives Black Panther, also known as T’Challa, his own heft, dealing with family issues that extend several generations. When his father dies, he’s named king of Wakanda and charged with handling the distribution of vibranium, a substance that has enabled the country to thrive without others knowing.
A challenger, however, emerges and threatens to upset the Wakandan world order. Michael B. Jordan plays the boastful Erik Killmonger and he’s a handful, particularly when he’s put into play with an arms dealer (Andy Serkis) who believes in helping himself first.
Coogler introduces us to the world in bits and pieces, lets a who’s who of African-Americans play key roles, then pits the two men who would be king against each other.
Considering they’re both strong (and, at times, noble) men, it’s a fascinating battle. Even better? T’Challa is aided by a phalanx of strong women. Angela Bassett plays his mother, Danai Gurira is his warrior and Lupita Nyong’o is his best adviser.
The best female performance, though, is delivered by Letitia Wright as his younger sister Shuri. She’s a STEM whiz, able to provide Black Panther with all the tools he needs to make his form of government work. She’s got more than a few snappy retorts, too, and a way that practically cries for her own stand-alone film.
While “Black Panther” isn’t worth the extra bucks to see in 3D, it does have some dazzling production and costume design and a sense of importance that suggests this isn’t just business as usual. Cities don’t crumble, citizens don’t cower and some alien from another planet isn’t expected to kill life as we know it just because it’s there.
“Black Panther” is, oddly, a film about relationships, family and the right behind might.
Coogler, who co-wrote the screenplay with Joe Robert Cole, borrows sentiments from Maya Angelou and others in making T’Challa’s case. Easily, some could say he’s making a political statement. But there’s so much to consider, it could hardly be dismissed as a screed.
“Black Panther” changes the way you’ll think about superhero films. It doesn’t settle for business as usual. It roars with creativity, pounces with pride.
Keep Coogler in the mix and Black Panther will be the man to lead the way.