‘Black Panther’ makes big leap as su­per­hero flick

Boston Herald - - THE EDGE - (“Black Panther” con­tains su­per­hero movie may­hem and violence and a rude ges­ture.)

Much of the power of this new Marvel su­per­hero film “Black Panther” is vis­ual and sym­bolic, but what power lies there.

The film is set in part in the se­cret African tech­no­log­i­cal su­per­power Wakanda, a place blessed with the su­per­me­tal vi­bra­nium and ruled by a royal fam­ily newly headed by Prince T’Challa, aka Black Panther (Chad­wick Bose­man), a kind of vi­bra­nium-clad Iron Man who pos­sesses sa­cred tribal su­per-abil­i­ties and whose Q-like lit­tle sis­ter Shuri (a de­light­ful Leti­tia Wright) pro­vides him with a vi­bra­nium cat­suit that be­stows Iron Man-like speed and su­per-strength, pro­tec­tion from bul­lets and other haz­ards. Among the en­e­mies Black Panther faces in this in­stall­ment is a South African arms dealer named Ulysses Klaue (a scen­esteal­ing Andy Serkis in the flesh for a change) and a venge­ful cousin named Erik Kill­mon­ger (Michael B. Jor­dan) aban­doned in Oak­land, Calif., in 1992 by T’Challa’s fa­ther (John Kani). Erik wants to usurp Black Panther’s throne and con­quer the world.

Based on the Marvel Comics char­ac­ter, who first ap­peared in an is­sue of “The Fan­tas­tic Four” in 1966, Black Panther is the first su­per­hero of African de­scent in pop­u­lar Amer­i­can comic books. He made his first Marvel film uni­verse ap­pear­ance in 2016 in “Cap­tain Amer­ica: Civil War,” and he comes to the big screen in his own film at a time when the Black Lives Mat­ter move­ment and di­vi­sive pol­i­tics have made such a hero a par­tic­u­larly timely fig­ure to rally around.

Bose­man’s Black Panther is not as amus­ing as the lat­est Thor. But he is not too se­ri­ous to tease his lit­tle sis­ter or to “freeze” in the pres­ence of his stun­ning ex, Nakia (Academy Award win­ner Lupita Ny­ong’o), an op­er­a­tive who wants to use Wakanda’s pow­ers to help the op­pressed peo­ple of the world. Help­ing Black Panther in his bat­tle against evil­do­ers is the Dora Mi­laje, the Wakan­dan all-fe­male spe­cial forces unit led by the fierce but funny Okoye (Danai Gurira of “The Walk­ing Dead,” an­other scene-stealer).

Di­rec­tor-co-writer Ryan Coogler (“Fruit­vale Sta­tion,” “Creed”) is an ob­vi­ous fan of James Bond films (not to men­tion “Star Wars,” “The Lion King” and “The Lord of the Rings”), ev­i­dent in a Grace Jones shoutout and scenes set in South Korea, where we meet the Fe­lix Leiter-like Amer­i­can CIA agent Everett K. Ross (Bilbo him­self Martin Free­man), who be­comes Black Panther’s quip-mak­ing side­kick.

The film is a show­case of sar­to­rial and ton­so­rial splen­dor. In cru­cial sup­port­ing roles are a wealth of su­per­tal­ent. They in­clude Academy Award nom­i­nees An­gela Bas­sett in gray dread­locks as the queen mother of Wakanda and Daniel Kalu­uya (“Get Out”) as T’Challa’s friend and ri­val W’Kabi; Academy Award win­ner For­est Whi­taker as shaman Zuri, whose cer­e­mo­nial robe ap­pears to be one long pur­ple rope; and Golden Globe win­ner Ster­ling K. Brown as Erik’s late fa­ther. As T’Challa’s tow­er­ing ri­val M’Baku, Yale School of Drama-ed­u­cated Win­ston Duke makes a case for his own movie.

With stun­ning pro­duc­tion de­sign, a score pro­duced by hip-hop mae­stro Ken­drick La­mar and daz­zling, poly­chrome cin­e­matog­ra­phy by Rachel Mor­ri­son (“Mud­bound”), the first woman nom­i­nated for an Os­car in cin­e­matog­ra­phy, “Black Panther” is also a tech­ni­cal em­bar­rass­ment of riches.

POWER STRUG­GLE: Black Panther (Chad­wick Bose­man, far left) is chal­lenged by Erik Kill­mon­ger (Michael B. Jor­dan, left, with Daniel Kalu­uya).

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