Black Panther

I was surprised at all the praise heaped upon Wonder Woman. It was an okay movie, but it was annoying to hear everyone talk about how great it was to have a woman superhero that girls could look up to. Huh? She was a gorgeous, tall Amazon warrior in a skimpy outfit. I don’t think that is an accessible image for young women and girls, and her character is a highly sexualized image for a “role model.”

Black Panther is a superhero movie that has characters black kids can look up to, and the women…young girls can look up to. They’re actually given something to do instead of playing the love interest, or standing around waiting to be saved by a man.

Let’s start off talking about them. There’s the snarky Shuri (Letitia Wright), who has terrific comedic timing; the ferocious and complex Okoye (Danai Gurira), the crafty, resourceful, beautiful Naki (Lupita Nyong’o), and the regal Ramonda (Angela Bassett). It would’ve been nice if Ramonda were given a bit more to do, but that’s a small gripe.

The women don’t get all the fun. The best villain I’ve seen on screen in awhile is Andy Serkis as Klaw, a South African arms dealer; his left arm is a powerful gun, and his right-hand man is played by Michael B. Jordan, who isn’t too shabby, either. Jordan also starred in director Ryan Coogler’s Creed.

Cooger may have borrowed a few ideas from James Bond, Coming to America, Avatar, and The Lion King, but he co-wrote (with Joe Robert Cole) a terrific stand-alone superhero flick.

It’s about the history of the nation of Wakanda (like the “Electric Banana” you shouldn’t look for it, it’s not there). They have a rare and powerful metal called vibranium, that’s used to create powerful weapons, unite tribes (well, most of them), and give them advanced technology.

When an early scene showed a Wakanda ship hovering above kids playing basketball in Oakland in 1992, in an apartment with a Public Enemy (Fight the Power) poster, I was afraid Cooger would be making a film with militant messages. I was glad to be proven wrong.

My wife was happy to see a few people from shows she likes — Gurira from The Walking Dead and Sterling K. Brown from This is Us. He plays N’Jobu, and he delivers a layered performance.

Perhaps the two people I was least impressed with were Forest Whitaker (simply because he had a rather small part) and the lead — Chadwick Boseman, although that’s just because his character is supposed to be the humble voice of reason. Some might complain that he wasn’t getting into enough fights or fighting crime the way you’d expect from a Marvel movie. I thought it made for a refreshingly fun detour from the usual stuff.

We’re used to interesting set pieces in these films, but the African vistas and special effects were gorgeous. Shout-out to production designer Hannah Beachler, and Ruth E. Carter for giving us colorful, African-inspired costume design; cinematographer Rachel Morrison (who just got attention for becoming the first female cinematographer nominated for an Oscar for Mudbound), is steller.

Swedish composer Ludwig Goransson at times sounded like John Williams, but more often than not, he gave us that Burundi drumbeat that added an intensity to the scenes, especially the fights (I could’ve done without the Kendrick Lamar songs).

I was a bit annoyed by all the attempts at humor in Thor: Ragnarok. This movie (like the last Spider-man) had just the right amount of humor (one joke about women looking like Grace Jones will be lost on anybody under 50-years-old).

This film had such an incredible cast, I’m almost done with my review and forgot to mention one of my favorite comedic actors — Martin Freeman, as CIA operative Everett K. Ross.

The movie was a bit uneven, and it has a formulaic 3rd act, but it’s a superhero movie. What do you expect?

It’s very engaging, and at over two hours, neither my wife and I were ever bored.

MOVIE FUN FACT: win a bar bet by telling somebody you can name two actors in this movie that played Black Panther, because…Danai Gurira played a Black Panther in the Tupac movie “All Eyez on Me” last year.

3 ½ stars out of 5.