During the events of 2016’s Captain America: Civil War, we were introduced to Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), aka Prince T’Challa of Wakanda, an African country hidden away from prying eyes that boasts amazing technology that far excels anything else on Earth. We pick up with the prince being made king in a country that has five local African tribes that sit at the Royal Council. After a brief challenge to the throne by M’Baku (Winston Duke), leader of the gorilla-like Jabari Tribe, King T’Challa assumes his rightful place, even though some, like warrior W’Kabi (Daniel Kaluuya), thinks his lackadaisical ruling of Wakanda is way too soft.
Meanwhile, an old adversary of Wakanda has arisen to steal a precious artifact of theirs. He’s Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis–and NOT in mo-cap this time!), a South African black-market arms dealer, smuggler, and evil gangster who not only knows all about Wakanda, but also their mineral-rich deposits of Vibranium, the single most powerful element on Earth. He’s even fashioned a weaponized Vibranium right arm! Going after him in South Korea is top priority, so off goes T’Challa, his ex-girlfriend and special-op’s spy Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o), and Okoye (Danai Gurira), leader of the bald, all-female Wakandan spear-wielding, kick-ass guards.
Also meeting there is CIA operative, Everett Ross (Martin Freeman) who gets more than he bargained for trying to apprehend the vicious Klaue. Soon they all find out that Klaue’s got rather lethal friends, led by a mysterious masked young man. Back in Wakanda with an injured Ross, T’Challa gets a huge shock: that mysterious masked man shows up there and turns out to be long-lost Wakandan heir to the throne, N’Jadaka (Michael B. Jordan), aka Killmonger. A challenge to the throne is made and Killmonger defeats the king.
As Killmonger assumes the throne and becomes the new Black Panther, he (naturally) plots to take over the world. T’Challa’s brilliant techno-savvy teenage sister, Shuri (Letitia Wright), his mother Romonda (Angela Bassett), Nakia, Ross, and Okoye high-tail it for the mountains to seek help. But will they find help? Will T’Challa be able to beat that nasty Killmonger? Will Ross (as the token white guy) lend a hand and do some good? And what about those CGI rhinos?
Written by newbie Joe Robert Cole (two episodes of American Crime Story) and director Ryan Coogler (Creed, Fruitvale Station), it’s clear neither one had a clear grasp on the ‘superhero’ genre as they were writing this. Based on the comic books, and tied into the Mighty MCU, this 134 minute richly steeped in African tradition is filled with enough clichéd and telegraphed scenes to shake a Wakandan spear at. For an entry film, I was expecting SO much more and got so much less. The story, although textured beautifully, is mediocre, predictable, and the characters are barely fleshed-out; it’s like a James Bond meets King Arthur movie with quite a bit of CG razzle-dazzle thrown in.
And it needs all that CG hocus-pocus too, ’cause that hokey dialogue isn’t going to win any awards anytime soon, that’s for sure… it even borders on trite fan-fiction sometimes. Coogler, who directed the wonderful boxing movie Creed, either filmed scenes in the dark or shot his fight scenes with sloppy camerawork, so you couldn’t see what was going on. Coogler, take a tip and watch movies by the Wachowski’s, David Leitch, or Paul Greengrass on HOW to film a fight scene! The one thing this movie has going for it (apart from the actors) is the sumptuous production design and exquisite costuming. Those are truly spectacular.
Boseman carries the movie with suave and sophistication, unlike any other previous Marvel superhero. He would be a great 007, since he already has a “Q” (Shuri) in the movie, and Wright fits that role perfectly as the sassy brainiac. Black Panther may be the superhero here, but for sheer bad-assery (is that even a word?), look no further than Nyong’o and Gurira. You do NOT want to get on the bad side of these two beautiful women, trust me, you do NOT! They are a SUCH a force to be reckoned with that they steal every scene they’re in. And Stan Lee makes his requisite cameo, of course.
P.S. There are mid-credit and post credit extra scenes, so if you stay after the movie is over, you won’t be disappointed as they tie into the upcoming Avengers: Infinity Wars.
The Man in the Iron Mask (1998)