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Movie review: Stylish 'Black Panther' takes Marvel fans deep into mythological Africa
Okoye (Danai Gurira) in Black Panther." - photo by Josh Terry
BLACK PANTHER 3 stars Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong'o, Letitia Wright; PG-13 (prolonged sequences of action violence and a brief rude gesture); in general release

The first superhero film on the 2018 calendar has arrived, and its a unique entry among Marvels ever-expanding cast of characters.

Ryan Cooglers Black Panther picks up sometime after the events of 2016s Captain America: Civil War, which introduced us to Prince TChalla (Chadwick Boseman), the masked protector of the African nation of Wakanda who had to take up the Black Panther mantle after the death of his father.

Cooglers film takes us to Wakanda, where we are introduced to a highly developed, hidden city that pairs advanced technology and traditional African aesthetic hand in hand. The city is located on top of a massive deposit of vibranium, the same material Tony Starks father used to build Captain Americas shield. Wakandas heart has long been hidden from the rest of the world, and the Black Panther has been its official protector for generations.

When we catch up with TChalla, he is going through a formal process that will officially name him king of Wakanda. To do so, he will have to face down any challengers from one of Wakandas five tribes, which really only becomes an issue when it comes to the reclusive Jabari tribe, led by MBaku (Winston Duke).

Once in place, TChalla is able to turn his attention to Wakandas more external threats, namely Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis), a black-market dealer who has a taste for vibranium. But eventually TChalla is forced to recognize a much more serious threat from a mysterious man named Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan), who has a dark connection to TChallas past.

The conflict between TChalla and Killmonger drives Black Panthers drama, in addition to its sociological and even political themes. It isnt too heavy-handed, but unlike other recent Marvel outings, Black Panther feels like it wants to make a statement.

The film is pretty straight-laced and serious compared to the last few Marvel movies to grace the big screen, including last years Spider-Man: Homecoming, the second Guardians of the Galaxy film, and especially Taika Waititis Thor: Ragnarok (though, to be fair, Ragnarok would make anything short of a Monty Python routine appear straight-laced and serious).

There are a few light moments here and there, and TChallas sister Shuri (Letitia Wright) who functions as a kind of Wakanda Q to Black Panthers James Bond is a refreshing addition to a cast that also includes Lupita Nyongo as TChallas love interest Nakia, The Walking Deads Danai Gurira as the warrior General Okoye, and Angela Bassett as TChallas mother Ramonda. There's obviously nothing wrong with a sober tone, but it does rob Black Panther a little of its fun factor.

Coogler works hard to deliver on the action side of the equation, with an exciting sequence in South Korea and a climactic battle in Africa that carries a distinct Lord of the Rings vibe. Jordan brings gravitas as the films antagonist, and these kinds of movies are always elevated when the bad guy is more than a placeholder.

As a formal showcase for the Black Panther, Cooglers film should keep diehard Marvel fans happy, though as with most of the franchises standalone films that have come after 2012s Avengers film, its easy to feel that you should be seeing a bit more participation from the characters that are just offscreen. Of course, considering Mays upcoming Avengers: Infinity War, greedy Marvel fans should probably be careful what they wish for.

Black Panther is rated PG-13 for prolonged sequences of action violence and a brief rude gesture; running time: 134 minutes.
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