“Black Panther,” the latest entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, doesn’t come out until next week. Already, though, critics are chiming in.
The word? It’s good. Really, really good.
The film stars Chadwick Boseman (“42,” “Get On Up”) as T’Challa, who by day is king of Wakanda, an isolated and technologically advanced African nation. By night, he is the superhero known as Black Panther. As the film unfolds, T’Challa must face a powerful villain who threatens not only Wakanda but the whole world. (We did say it was a Marvel movie.)
Directed by Ryan Coogler (“Fruitvale Station,” “Creed”), “Black Panther” features a cast of Oscar winners (Lupita Nyong’o, Forest Whitaker), Emmy winners (Sterling K. Brown, Martin Freeman), Oscar nominees (Angela Bassett), and a host of other acclaimed performers among its mostly black cast (Michael B. Jordan, Andy Serkis, Danai Gurira).
The character was created by the iconic Marvel duo of writer Stan Lee and artist Jack Kirby, and first appeared in “Fantastic Four” in 1966. He was the first superhero of African descent featured in a major American comic series, paving the way for Marvel’s Luke Cage and Falcon, and D.C.’s introduction of John Stewart as the Green Lantern, all before 1972.
The movie’s release is significant beyond its place in the Marvel canon. Much like “Wonder Woman” did last summer when it crystallized the sentiment expressed in the 2017 Women’s March, and gave women and girls a superhero role model who was much more than a pretty face and a skimpy costume, “Black Panther” gives black Americans an opportunity to see themselves in the role of hero. As Brandon T. Harden put it in the Philadelphia Inquirer, “In every way, the idea of a black superhero satiates the 6-year-old in me who wanted nothing more than a hero to identify with. And I’m not the only one who feels this way.”
Clearly not. The ticket presales through Fandango are at a record-setting level. Overall, the movie is sitting at a perfect 100 percent fresh rating at Rotten Tomatoes. (Another sign of the film’s significance? A racist group is reportedly plotting to drag down that rating by flooding the site with negative user reviews. Rotten Tomatoes is not having it, and has pledged to fight back.)
Meanwhile, the nation’s critics are loving what Marvel Studios is serving with “Black Panther.”
In the Los Angeles Times, Kenneth Turan called it a “superhero movie worth seeing twice.” He wrote, “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.”
Manohla Dargis, in the New York Times, praised Coogler’s filmmaking skills. “There are sequences in “Black Panther” that may make you cry because of where they go and what they say, but also because of the sensitivity he brings to them.” She later praised the way the film surrounds T’Challa with strong, smart women: “A female general (Danai Gurira) stands by his side; his baby sister (a vivacious Letitia Wright) provides gadgets and withering asides à la Bond’s gadget guy. Angela Bassett swans in as the royal mother, while Lupita Nyong’o, as a spy, makes the case for her own spinoff.”
For the Associated Press, Jake Coyle wrote, “It’s easy to lament how long it took to bring ‘Black Panther’ to the big screen. But at least the wait was worth it.”
Peter Debruge, in Variety, likened it to “Wonder Woman” as an “empowering” game-changer, and noted that “historical significance aside, what superhero fans want to know is how ‘Black Panther’ compares with other Marvel movies. Simply put, it not only holds its own, but improves on the formula in several key respects, from a politically engaged villain to an emotionally grounded final showdown.”
Opinions that “Black Panther” has taken the Marvel formula and improved on it are not uncommon. In Vanity Fair, Richard Lawson asked Marvel for more stories from Wakanda, because “Despite familiar action-scene wobbliness, it’s easily the most engaging Marvel film in a long while. Because – finally! – it has something new to say.” And in Rolling Stone, Peter Travers was positively giddy: “… the film lights up the screen with a full-throttle blast of action and fun. That’s to be expected. But what sneaks up and floors you is the film’s racial conscience and profound, astonishing beauty.”