Cool Cat

Sensational Black Panther is right-on, right now & at just the right time

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Chadwick Boseman with Lupita Nyong’o (left) and Letitia Wright

Black Panther
Starring Chadwick Boseman, Lupita Nyong’o, Letitia Wright, Michael B. Jordan, Martin Freeman & Danai Gurira
Directed by Ryan Coogler
PG-13

Chadwick Boseman has made history come alive in the movies by playing trailblazing black soul singer James Brown, pioneering black baseball legend Jackie Robinson and Thurgood Marshall, who would become the first African-American justice on the U.S. Supreme Court.

He makes history in another way now as Black Panther, the first major black superhero.

In director Ryan Coogler’s sensational new, sure-to-be-blockbuster origin story for the Marvel character first introduced in the comics in 1966, and appearing briefly onscreen in Captain America: Civil War, Boseman stars as T’Challa, the ruler of the fictional, isolated African nation of Wakanda, a little country with a big secret: The rest of the world thinks it’s a dirt-poor Third World scrap of nothing, but it’s actually the most technologically advanced spot on the planet.

Thanks to the extremely rare meteoric ore vibranium, found only in Wakanda, T’Challa’s nation has bullet-proof armor, hi-tech weaponry, flying vehicles and space-age science and medicine. (Vibranium is also the stuff that was used to make Captain America’s shield, FYI.) And, no surprise, there are certain people on the outside who’ll do anything to get inside to get what they’ve got.

Crowned king after the death of his father, T’Challa prefers Wakanda’s low profile and wants to keep his country and its mega-mineral under wraps; he has sworn to protect his people and his nation’s potent resource. Others around him, like his friend and ally W’Kabi (Daniel Kaluuya, who starred in Get Out), disagree: Why not share the wealth—and use Wakanda’s knowledge and power to help and endow the rest of the world?

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Danai Gurira (right) plays the fierce—and fiercely loyal—leader of Wakanda’s all-female legion of palace guards.

The ensemble cast is outstanding, and the screenplay (by Coogler and Joe Robert Cole) gives everyone a spotlight. Oscar-winning Lupita Nyong’o plays Nakia, a Wakandian “war dog” spy who mixes revolution with romance as she tugs on T’Challa’s heartstrings. Okoye (Danai Gurira from The Walking Dead) is the fierce general of the palace’s all-female special-forces squad. Angela Bassett plays Romonda, T’Challa’s mother, who reminds the king of the tradition and ritual that anchor their nation’s advances in science and technology.

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Letitia Wright

Newcomer Letitia Wright nearly steals the show as T’Challa’s sassy little sister, Shuri, a tech-savvy gadget guru in charge making Black Panther’s amazing body-armor sheath, plus virtual-reality cars, Wakanda’s sonic-powered air trains and just about everything else. The scene in which she shows her big brother the new gizmos she’s crafted for his upcoming dangerous assignment abroad is a hoot that recalls gadget master Q schooling James Bond—and even makes a wry, wink-wink reference to those classic spy flicks.

Andy Serkis (best-known as the motion-capture actor who played Caesar in the Planet of the Apes franchise and Gollum in Lord of the Rings) is a ruthless international arms dealer who threatens to blow Wakanda’s cover. Michael B. Jordan (who worked with director Conger in Creed and Fruitville Station) plays a mercenary fighter who becomes a challenger to T’Challa’s throne—and a link to secrets in the royal family’s past.

The Wakanda family tree has another couple of branches with T’Challa’s uncles, Zuri (Forest Whitaker) and N’Jobu (This Is Us star Sterling K. Brown, who costarred with Boseman in Marshall). Martin Freeman provides humor as a CIA agent who suddenly finds himself in a whole new world, in more ways than one, when he’s transported to Wakanda.

nullWith a—mostly—all-black cast and a black superhero surrounded by black, super-empowered, kick-ass women, Black Panther is a right-on movie at the right time. It gets down with super-timely real-world issues—global politics, refugees, wealth distribution, white colonization, black subjugation, the ethical obligations of powerful nations—and makes the impossible-to-miss point that “Third World” places deemed (by a head of state or anyone else) under-developed, undesirable or worse  may actually hold unfathomable treasures.

It’s got action—a knockout fight scene in a Hong Kong casino, hand-to-hand battles on the precipice of a massive waterfall, and a sprawling, CGI brawl on a Wakanda plain, with crashing airships, clashing armies and charging, armor-plated rhinos. It’s got a smashing design, full of color and spectacle, a mix of vibrant African culture and mythos intermeshed with brainy, comic-book sci-fi—like Tarzan meets Star Trek. And it’s fully engaged with the Marvel universe, ready to plug-and-play. Boseman’s Black Panther will appear next, along with Captain America, Spider-Man, Ant-Man, Thor and characters from Guardians of the Galaxy, in Avengers: Infinity War, in May.

But for now, sit back, soak it up and watch it shine: In the red, white and blue hue-niverse of American superhero colors, black is the new beautiful.

In theaters Feb. 16, 2018

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