[Screen It]

(2018) (Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan) (PG-13)

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Superhero Action: The new king of a technologically advanced African nation must contend with challenges to his rule and his country's isolationism.
Following the death of his father -- the king of Wakanda -- from a terrorist bombing at the U.N. -- prince T'Challa, a.k.a. the Black Panther (CHADWICK BOSEMAN), is set to assume rule of the African nation with the blessings of his mother, Ramonda (ANGELA BASSETT), and their tribal leader, Zuri (FOREST WHITAKER), but not before defeating a challenger for the throne in the form of M'Baku (WINSTON DUKE). To the rest of the world, Wakanda appears to be a third world nation. In reality, it's a technologically enhanced country that remains hidden due to an immense cloaking device fueled by the powerful metal vibranium that's in abundance there.

That material is desired by super-villain Ulysses Klaue (ANDY SERKIS) who's long bedeviled the Wakandan people and possesses a powerful arm cannon powered by it. With the help of black ops mercenary Erik Killmonger (MICHAEL B. JORDAN), Klaue steals more of that from a London museum. That act has drawn the demand from Wakandans such as W'Kabi (DANIEL KALUUYA) to have the terrorist killed, while others such as T'Challa's ex, Nakia (LUPITA NYONG'O), believe overall that they should help others around the world who are poor, sick or oppressed lead healthier and safer lives.

T'Challa is reluctant to do either, what with his isolationist country having flown under the world's radar. Nonetheless, and equipped with a special high-tech suit created by his tech-inventor sister, Shur (LETITIA WRIGHT), he sets out with Nakia and his top general-warrior, Okoye (DANAI GURIRA), to find and kill Klaue. But they aren't expecting to run into CIA agent Everett K. Ross (MARTIN FREEMAN) who's also after the terrorist but needs him alive. Little do they know, however, that Klaue isn't going to be their biggest problem as Erik -- with various personal and philosophical axes to grind -- sets out to turn their world upside down.

OUR TAKE: 7 out of 10
One of the great joys of last year's "Wonder Woman" -- aside from Gal Gadot being nothing short of brilliant in the long-vacant role -- was seeing post-release videos of young girls feeling empowered by now having a powerful female role model they could look up, something boys had long enjoyed the luxury of experiencing.

With this week's release of "Black Panther," I have a feeling something similar is going to occur with African-American kids -- boys and girls alike since the women in the film are just as strong as the lead -- and that could extend to children of any color.

And that's because, just as was the case with "Wonder Woman" that filled a gender void in terms of lead female superhero characters, this one does the same with black comic book movie characters. Beyond Wesley Snipes in the "Blade" movies, Halle Berry in the "X-Men" ones and Samuel L. Jackson in various "Avengers" related flicks, you'd probably be hard-pressed to name another three.

The great news is that this latest offering from the nothing but prolific Marvel Studios "crank 'em out every year" movie factory isn't just lip service in terms of fulfilling some diversification quota. No, it's a pretty terrific movie on its own that works on multiple levels, one of which is delivering a look at the black experience not only in America, but also around the world.

That's not only present in obvious terms of the majority of the characters being black, but also the production and costume design including old African tribal symbols and themes in what's otherwise a highly technologically advanced society.

And then there are the various story beats including the disparity between well-to-do African-Americans (not wanting to draw undue attention to themselves) and those living in poverty or still being oppressed around the world, as well an increasingly prominent one regarding the vicious cycle of inner-city black kids growing up fatherless and the violent tendencies that often result from that.

The latter ends up giving the film an extra heaping of gravitas by taking what initially appears will be a rote superhero story and turning it into something much deeper. At first, it looks like we'll get 140 or so minutes of Chadwick Boseman playing the title character, a.k.a. T'Challa, and having to contend with a brutish villain (Andy Serkis) who sports a literal cannon of an arm and has a thieving appetite for vibranium. That's the metal found only in the fictitious land of Wakanda that can do things ranging from healing severe wounds to powering weapons and making Captain America's shield super-special.

Sure, T'Challa must also contend with being the new king of the land following his father's death (that occurred in "Avengers: Civil War" and resulted in our first real look at the Black Panther character in action), being reunited with his ex (Lupita Nyong'o), and having other strong female characters surrounding him (Angela Bassett as his mother, Letitia Wright as his Q-like techno-inventor little sister, and Danai Gurira as his highly loyal and uber-efficient warrior-general). Nonetheless, things seem headed down the usual superhero storyline path where the hero and villain will battle it out in a big, brutal and special effects enhanced slug-fest.

Thankfully, writer/director Ryan Coogler ("Fruitvale Station," "Creed") and co-writer Joe Robert Cole nudge the flick into deeper territory by taking what appears to be a sidekick villain character (Michael B. Jordan) and turning him into the main threat who has an ax to grind on multiple levels. While obviously the bad guy, there's validity to his desires and that's what makes his character rise above the usual, no pun intended, black and white antagonist and segue into more grayish territory.

Yes, there's the obligatory fight scene at the end (that takes place amidst other nearby battling), and while I wish such storytellers could devise a new way to conclude such tales, at least there's more depth and reason behind the one-on-one match than what's usually offered in such pics. Beyond that, the expected comic relief is doled out judiciously and hits the marks as needed.

I do have to point out that some of the action is sometimes too heavily edited and thus doesn't always pack the visceral punch it probably should have. And some of the special effects didn't always appear completely seamless in relation to the actors and environments in which they appear (which is a bit odd considering the mega-budget the film sports and the plethora of visual effects houses and artists listed in the end credits).

But those are just some small bits of nitpicking that don't end up anywhere near being distractions. In the end, "Black Panther" is a pretty terrific film that serves an underserved demographic but will play well across the board and thankfully features more depth than your typical superhero movie fare. It rates as a 7 out of 10.

Reviewed February 13, 2018 / Posted February 16, 2018

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