festooned with Oscar-winners and nominees adds lustre to a lean script co-written by Joe Robert Cole, teasing out tender romance and bruising bloodline rivalries.
T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) returns to grief-stricken Wakanda – a pacifist, technologically advanced society “hidden in plain view” – following the murder of his father, King T’Chaka (John Kani), in a terrorist bombing.
Four of the African nation’s five clans, including the border tribe led by T’Challa’s best friend W’Kabi (Daniel Kaluuya), support his ascension but the Jabari mountain people commanded by M’Baku (Winston Duke) loudly voice their opposition. Fragile allegiances fracture and CIA-trained operative Erik “Killmonger” Stevens (Michael B. Jordan) stages a bloody coup.
Flanked by formidable bodyguard Okoye (Danai Gurira), T’Challa rouses his supporters including his mother Ramonda (Angela Bassett), spunky sister Shuri (Letitia Wright) and old flame Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o).
Black Panther repeatedly flexes its impressive technical muscles.
Pulse-quickening skirmishes above and below Wakandan ground are choreographed at a furious pace, and a car chase through the night-time streets of Busan in South Korea employs slow motion acrobatics to truly dizzying effect.
During quieter, contemplative moments conflicted characters wrestle with moral obligations to share wealth and knowledge with less fortunate kin.
That tug of war between self-preservation and philanthropy provides plentiful dramatic meat for the cast to sink their teeth into, exemplified by a tense bond between Boseman and Jordan’s embittered and idealistic rivals.
“The world’s going to start over and I’m going to be on top,” growls Killmonger.
Black Panther comes thrillingly close to joining him at the summit.
■ Released Tuesday, February 13
Black Panther pushes its female characters to the heart of the action, such as Shuri, above, played by Letitia Wright Lupita Nyong’o as Nakia, Chadwick Boseman as T’Challa/Black Panther