'Black Panther' is a royally imaginative standout in the Marvel Cinematic Universe

Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Entertainment News

An impeccable actor, Boseman brings the quality of belief he's brought to playing real people such as Jackie Robinson, James Brown and Thurgood Marshall to the role of King T'Challa, a.k.a. Black Panther.

This character made his first Marvel appearance in 2016's "Captain America: Civil War," which saw T'Challa's father, King T'Chaka, killed in an explosion, putting his son in line for assuming the Wakandan throne.

One of the great things about "Black Panther" is the specificity of this mythical place, masquerading as one of the world's poorest countries but actually -- thanks to a huge deposit of miracle metal vibranium -- a hotbed of futuristic technology.

Not only have production designer Beachler and her team created marvelous locations such as the Challenge Pool at Warrior Falls, but veteran costume designer Ruth E. Carter was instrumental as well. Both referenced everything including Ghanaian textiles, a 5th century Nigerian script and the dress of tribes such as the Maasai, Tuareg, Dogon and Zulu.

"Never before in Hollywood have we had the chance to show the continent intellectually -- it had all been Africa, dirt floors," Carter told California Sunday magazine. "We were trying to understand ancient African culture in a way that didn't look 'savage' but looked glorious, kingly, warriorlike."

Carter's most memorable creation, complete with neck rings borrowed from the Ndebele, is the Dora Milaje, the eight-member all-female royal bodyguard led by Okoye ("The Walking Dead's" Gurira) who move with dazzling precision to strike terror into all who dare to cross them.

As crisply scripted by Coogler and Joe Robert Cole ("American Crime Story: The People v. OJ Simpson"), "Black Panther" begins with a challenge to T'Challa's rule that must be played out according to strict ancient protocols followed by a fence-mending expedition to old friend W'Kabi ("Get Out's" Kaluuya).

Then the new king has to deal with both Nakia (Nyong'o), his former significant other now fully involved in her life as a spy, and his precocious younger sister Shuri (a very amusing Wright), who functions as a kind of Q to Black Panther's James Bond.

T'Challa is also intent on confronting the evil South African arms dealer Ulysses Klaue (Serkis), who was responsible for T'Chaka's death.

Working with Klaue is the mysterious Erik Killmonger, beautifully played by Jordan, a bad guy with a background and an agenda that will make heads spin all across Wakanda.

With dialogue that deftly explores serious questions, such as how much if anything do wealthy countries owe the poor and oppressed of the world, "Black Panther" draws energy from Coogler's sense of excitement at all he's attempting. The result is a superhero movie that's worth seeing twice, and that is a rare sighting indeed.

Rating: PG-l3 for prolonged sequences of action violence and a brief rude gesture

Running time: 2 hours, 15 minutes

Playing: In general release

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