We didn't know we'd been yearning for it until it arrived, but now that it's here it's unmistakable that the wait for a film like "Black Panther" has been way longer than it should have been.
On one level this is the next-in-line Marvel Universe story of the ruler of the mythical African kingdom of Wakanda who moonlights as a superhero and has to contend with threats and problems both internal and external.
But "Black Panther," as co-written and directed by Ryan Coogler and starring a deep bench of actors of color, is an against-the-grain $100 million-plus epic so intensely personal that when the usual Marvel touchstones (Stan Lee, anyone) appear, they feel out of place.
A superhero movie whose characters have integrity and dramatic heft, filled with engaging exploits and credible crises all grounded in a vibrant but convincing reality, laced with socially conscious commentary as well as wicked laughs that don't depend on snark, this is the model of what an involving popular entertainment should be. And even something more.
Energized to a thrilling extent by a myriad of Afrocentric influences, "Black Panther" showcases a vivid inventiveness that underscores the obvious point that we want all cultures and colors represented on screen because that makes for a richness of cinematic experience that everyone enjoys being exposed to.
Like Christopher Nolan, who was 35 when he reanimated the Batman franchise, the 31-year-old Coogler has a gift for putting his own spin on genre, for making popular culture worlds his own.
He did it with "Creed," making the Rocky franchise and Sylvester Stallone uncannily relevant. That was only his second feature following a Sundance Grand Jury Prize-winning debut, "Fruitvale Station," but five years ago.
A key to Coogler's achievement with "Black Panther" is that he's taken key production people along with him on all three of his films, including production designer Hannah Beachler, editor Michael P. Shawver and composer Ludwig Gorannson.
Director of photography Rachel Morrison, recently the first woman ever nominated for a cinematography Oscar, returns as well, as does expressive actor Michael B. Jordan, the star of Coogler's first two films.
Here Jordan shares the screen with an impressive array of actors, from veterans such as Angela Bassett and Forest Whitaker (an early Coogler supporter) to energized performers including Lupita Nyong'o, Danai Gurira, Martin Freeman, Daniel Kaluuya, Andy Serkis, Letitia Wright, Winston Duke and, of course, Chadwick Boseman.