BLACK PANTHER

 

FEBRUARY 16, 2018 -- After all is said and done, Marvel Comics' latest film "Black Panther" may go down as one of the most significant films with a cast predominantly of people of color. From a socio-political point of view, Donald Trump will hate it as a film about a fake shit-hole country. But there is enough positive cultural and social commentary in the film to go around.

 

Director Ryan Coogler ("Fruitvale Station" and "Creed") doesn't pull any punches with the underlining editorial, but he keeps it entertaining, colorful and visually stunning. It is an amazing origin story, on par with Patty Jenkins' "Wonder Woman". Mark my word, Black Panther will be the highest grossing film with a predominently black cast... ever! (Yes, bigger than "Coming to America".)

 

The film opens in 1992 Oakland. [Historians will note that Oakland was the hometown of the 1960/70s Black Panther Party founded by Huey P. Newton.] In an apartment, two men busted by a young King T'Chaka for trying to sell a stolen stash of Wakanda's Vibranium. It turns out the main thief is the king's brother and the other a spy sent to watch him. The bust is partially witnessed by a young boy playing basketball outside.

The film fast forwards to today's Wakanda not long after King Chaka was killed during the attack on the IFID Headquarters ("Captain America: Civil War"), his son T'Challa (Chadwick Boseman) is ready to ascend to the throne. After a brief challenge by a outsider tribe, he officially becomes king of Wakanda and The Black Panther.

 

He is surrounded by his mother Ramonda (Angela Bassett), his geeky inventive high-tech sister Shuri (Letitia Wright) - who could easily give Tony Stark a run in the technology department - his lovely ex-girlfriend Nakia (Lupita Nyong'o), his best warrior Okoye (Dania Gurira) and the tribe guru Zuri (Forest Whitaker).

 

Initially, their biggest threat comes from a crazy white guy named Klaue (Andy Serkis) the South African arms dealer who was the only outsider to actually see Wakanda... and lived to tell about it. Klaue has been a thorn in the side of Wakanda for a while and T'Challa's border chief W'Kabi (Daniel Kaluuya) blames the late king for being too soft in the efforts to capture Klaue - which led to deaths in his W'Kabi's family.

There is another failure by T'Challa to capture Klaue - and more disappointment - when an unknown vigilante catches Klaue and turns him over to W'Kabi. The unknown vigilante is Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) who has thorough training as a US military agent. But he also has ties to Wakanda and wants the reclusive country to take over the world by arming the oppressed with their technological wonders.

 

From there, the story takes off to well timed twists, brilliant battle scenes and, of course, the surprise aid from former foes. It continues the Marvel Comic trend of super-heroes with dark histories. Tony Stark, Peter Parker, Thor, Bruce Banner, Steve Rogers, etc all hide a dark past; T'Challa joins their ranks as he learns the truth about his father.

 

But don't expect a westernized, vanilla flavored background. Coogler celebrates the complete spectrum of African life as he grabs costumes representative of Masai, Ashanti, Suri, Congolese, Zulu, Somali, and other tribes. There are a couple of small errors (Suri men do not wear lip plates, only women) but the color palette and detail is remarkable. This may land Ruth Carter accolades for costuming and the large makeup department respective awards. Much like the animated "Coco" embraced Mexican culture, "Black Panther" celebrates African culture. Most of the tribal dialogue is in Xhosa (a language spoken by over 7-million Africans).

 

Obviously Nyong'o (Kenyan), Gurira (Zimbabwe), Kaluuya (Ugandan), John Kani (South Africa) a few other actors of African heritage were quite comfortable in "their element", but Boseman, Michael Jordan and Angela Bassett slip seamlessly into authentic African personae. The women - especially the women I should say - are absolutely gorgeous as they eschew western appearances. When you examine the women, you'll see proud fitness and beauty.

 

As an editorial, Coogler embraces western stereotypes of African culture by using things like high tech lethal spears in lieu of guns; clearly a slap at the "spear-chucker" tag. Wakanda becomes not just a fake country in the Marvel Universe, but a fantastical country representative of the whole of Black Africa.

 

It goes without saying that Boseman fits the costume well and comes off as an impressive superhero - set to join the Avengers. But note that the women are equally well suited at the side of Black Panther.

 

"Black Panther" is a great origin story and falls in line with "Wonder Woman" as a meaningful superhero who happens to not be a white male. It also brilliantly continues the Marvel Comics nod to strong women and Disney's nod to minorities.   -- GRADE A  --   GEOFF BURTON

 

GEOFF BURTON

 

 

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