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February 15, 2018

Movie review: 'Black Panther' rules and roars

T'Challa is a regal, humble, almost reluctant king, but uses his mind and a sense of determination to get the job done

With a huge fanbase that has waited decades for the titular hero to come to life on the big screen, record-breaking ticket sales, sharp trailers and an incredible cast, it would be easy for "Black Panther" to fail to meet it's expectations.

However, it doesn't meet them, it crushes them.

For one example, one of the biggest criticisms of the Marvel Studios movies has been that their villains are often not memorable. Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis) serves notice that his powerful, cunning villain is here to break that mold - and he is not even the biggest villain in the movie - quickly eclipsed by Michael B. Jordan's performance as Erik Killmonger, who sizzles onscreen and dominates every scene he's in. Killmonger represents the bitter, angry segment of our society - especially the frustration and fury of some segments of black society - and, like all great villains, his motivations are not only relatable, but make sense. 

As for the Black Panther himself, Chadwick Boseman plays T'Challa as a regal, humble, almost reluctant king. Of all the rivals to his throne - and even his allies - he is the most soft-spoken and least physically intimidating. Yet, like Batman and Captain America, he uses his mind and determination to get the job done.

Boseman's T'Challa does not get as much screen time as many leads in solo superhero films, but that is because director Ryan Coogler has assembled a constellation of hot stars that no other superhero film - and few films in general - can match. There are no less that 11 actors and actresses that get memorable roles, screen time and moments.

In addition to Boseman, Jordan and Serkis, Lupita Nyong'o plays Wakandan agent - and T'Challa's ex - Nakia is as tough and sexy as any Bond Girl. Danai Gurira plays the head of the Dora Milaje with such zeal and badassery you will think her role as Michonne in "The Walking Dead" was just a tuneup.

That T'Challa comes from royal blood becomes all the more believable with the regal bearing of Angela Bassett, who plays his mother, Ramonda, and, to a lesser extent, Forest Whitaker's Zuri, who is virtually T'Challa's uncle and carries a dark secret.

But the movie is almost stolen by Letitia Wright, who plays T'Challa's sister, Shuri. Shuri is beyond brilliant. As the movie shows, she may be more brilliant than Tony Stark, whipping up a ton of useful gadgets - and having a blast doing it.

It says something that we have yet to mention Daniel Kaluuya, who plays an ally of T'Challa, who nonetheless thinks he's soft; or Winston Duke, who plays M'Baku, the White Gorilla, the leader of a rival tribe.

In the end, the real star of the movie is the world of Wakanda that Coogler seeks to put on screen. The director has said he borrowed bits and pieces from runs from everyone from Stan Lee to Christopher Priest and Don McGregor and others in his vision of Wakanda.

The result is visiting a place audiences have never seen before and from which the small skirmishes and big-picture conflicts naturally take place.

The effects and music and script are all top-notch as well.

In the end, this film delivers all you expect, and then some.

"Black Panther" rules - and roars. If other studios can get what made this film work, we are in for even better, more diverse films in the future.

Grade: A