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Wakanda Forever! (Or at least until the next mega-blockbuster drops.)

Paul Lewis

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Some movies set out to share a moral, some to send a message, and some just to entertain us — ‘Black Panther’ seems determined to do all three. In the latest release from Marvel Studios, king T’Challa, alongside his noble ex-girlfriend Nakia, his kick-ass bodyguard Okoye, and fish out of water Everett Ross, set out to save the technologically advanced African nation of Wakanda from a mistake made years ago by his dead father.

Hopefully the casting director for ‘Black Panther’ received good pay because they were on a hot streak when they nailed this one down. Overall the casting in this movie is stellar.

Chadwick Boseman is nothing short of regal in his role as T’Challa, the film’s eponymous namesake and king of Wakanda. As T’Challa, Boseman exudes an air of casual nobility while still managing to portray a man struggling to come to terms with what it means to be king. Ever at T’Challa’s side is his faithful bodyguard Okoye played with impressive presence by Danai Gurira, whom many will remember as the somehow less badass Michonne from AMC’s ‘The Walking Dead.’

Playing opposite Boseman is Micheal B. Jordan, of ‘Friday Night Lights’ and ‘The Wire’ fame. Jordan plays the film’s antagonist, Killmonger, and while the name conjures images of a man with laser eyes and a chainsaw for an arm, this actually belies the character’s true nuance. Jordan manages to bring this character to vivid life and, despite a couple acts of “evil for evil’s sake”, makes Killmonger into a believable and piteous character.

Rounding out the cast is Martin Freeman playing CIA agent Ross with his usual charm, Andy Serkis’ delightfully crazy Ulyesses Klaue, Letitia Wright as T’Challa’s lovingly eccentric and buoyant younger sister Shuri, the inestimable Forest Whitaker as the high priest Zuri and Lupita Nyong’o as T’Challa’s ex-girlfriend Nakia.

While the bare bones of ‘Black Panther’ is your standard “hero’s journey,” the meat of the story is something else entirely. At times, it can even be hard to tell if the hero of this journey is T’Challa himself or the entire nation of Wakanda, and this is where ‘Black Panther’ diverges from your typical super hero power fantasy escapism. This movie is not just about a man gaining power and overcoming his adversaries, but about a man realizing the responsibility of that power and using it to uplift his community.

The super hero genre is awash with stereo-typically grizzled white men and ‘Black Panther’ seems like it is trying to make up for all of that imbalance in one fell swoop. From the unabashedly Afro-futurist vibes to the unmissable confidence and power of its female leads, this movie wants you to know that not only is it unafraid to upset the proverbial apple cart, but it is doing so with a ten mile-wide grin.

All that being said, there are times where ‘Black Panther’s’ ambition surpasses it’s reach. So much is happening in this movie, both on the surface and below, that it can be hard to tell what exactly is the point of any given scene. Additionally, for those who like their super hero action simple, fast and loud, the social undertones of the movie may detract somewhat from their enjoyment.

‘Black Panther’ is rated PG-13 for scenes of action violence and apparently a brief rude gesture that this reviewer regrets missing. While ‘Black Panther’ is full of scenes of violence, it is of the lightest kind. Little blood is present and the action is mostly kinetic super hero fluff. Anyone who can watch Captain America punching out a Nazi or Iron Man drinking a particularly stiff martini is more than old enough to enjoy this film.

‘Black Panther’ is a movie that sets out to destroy the mold and it seems to, at the least, accomplish that. From the superb acting to the startlingly on point musical score, ‘Black Panther’ is an arrestingly beautiful extravaganza delivering a strong message. It’s easy to imagine a man in a high office, probably white and wearing a nicely tailored suit, saying “Let’s make this the black Captain America,” however it is clear that in its production, this film was touched by the hands of many who cared deeply. That, above all else, shows through. This reviewer gives ‘Black Panther’ 9/10.

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Wakanda Forever! (Or at least until the next mega-blockbuster drops.)