Parents need to know that “Black Panther” is the first film in the Marvel cinematic universe to center on a superhero of color: African prince-turned-king T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman), aka the Black Panther. As in all superhero movies, there’s plenty of violence — in this case, mostly brutal hand-to-hand combat that gets quite intense, with bloody injuries and even deaths. Although there are a few shoot-outs with super-powered guns/cannons (as well as some cold-blooded killings), the majority of the action features spear and blade fighting. That said, some confrontations do include larger, explosive battles and very destructive car chases. Language and sexual content are pretty minimal — a few uses of “s--t” / “hell” and a couple of quick kisses, respectively.
Set mostly in the fictional African nation of Wakanda, the movie features not only the first mostly-black ensemble cast in superhero-film history (Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o, Angela Bassett, Forest Whitaker, Danai Gurira, and Daniel Kaluuya co-star), but also an all-female royal guard and a brilliant female inventor/engineer. Families who see Black Panther will have plenty to talk about afterward, from its portrayal of race and gender to the overall importance of having black superheroes as main characters, rather than sidekicks.
WHAT’S THE STORY?
After a folk tale-like prologue that recounts the history of the fictional African nation of Wakanda, Black Panther opens with a flashback to 1992, when a younger T’Chaka (Atandwa Kani) makes a surprise visit to Oakland, Calif., to confront a rogue Wakandan spy. Back in the present, T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) is preparing for his coronation day, which includes a potential challenge — through ritual combat — from any of Wakanda’s five tribes, as well as a sacred ceremony in which he officially becomes the nation’s Black Panther.
After T’Challa takes the throne, intelligence surfaces that notorious arms dealer Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis) has stolen a vibranium artifact from the British Museum. T’Challa takes his top warrior — head of the royal guard General Okoye (Danai Gurira) — and his former love, Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o), a Wakandan spy, to attempt to capture Klaue (one of the few outsiders who knows the truth about how much vibranium — the most valuable metal on Earth — is available in Wakanda). But CIA operative Everett Ross (Martin Freeman) and Klaue’s mysterious young ally (Michael B. Jordan) complicate the mission. It turns out that the mystery man is a former SEAL who has a very personal score to settle with T’Challa and the Wakandans.
IS IT ANY GOOD?
Ryan Coogler’s masterful superhero drama is unlike any other, featuring outstanding acting, breathtaking art direction, fascinating royal intrigue, memorable action sequences, and surprising depth. It’s that depth — of character, of storyline, of relevancy — that makes Black Panther shine, as Boseman’s T’Challa takes the mantle of king with enormous uncertainty about whether to share Wakanda’s resources with the world. With the exception of his second-in-command W’Kabi (Kaluuya), T’Challa surrounds himself with an inner circle of influential women: Okoye, Nakia, his mother (Bassett), and his genius younger sister, scientist/tech inventor Shuri (Letitia Wright). Each of them contributes much to the story, with Gurira’s spear-wielding Okoye the movie’s clear scene-stealer, Wright the clever comic relief, and Nyong’o offering a wee bit of romance. Even the central villain, as played by frequent Coogler collaborator Jordan, is well-rounded and humanized, with the actor doing great work opposite the equally nuanced Boseman.
There’s so much to appreciate in “Black Panther,” from its pulsing score, which features a soundtrack overseen by award-winning rapper Kendrick Lamar, to the mesmerizing cinematography courtesy of DP Rachel Morrison, gorgeous tribal costumes, and vibrant production design. There’s not as much laugh-aloud banter as viewers may have come to expect from Marvel movies, but the beats of humor that are here, usually thanks to plucky Shuri or mountain-tribe leader M’Baku (Winston Duke), are extra funny. Ultimately the film’s success comes down to the thoughtful, compelling storytelling from director Coogler and writer Joe Robert Cole, as interpreted by a terrific cast of actors. This isn’t just another highly entertaining-but-formulaic superhero story; it’s also poignant and powerful and earns its place toward the top of Marvel’s films. (Be sure to watch all the way through the credits for a couple of extra tidbits!)
RATING AND CONTENT
Recommended for ages 12 and older
Quality: 5 out of 5
Positive messages: 4 out of 5
Positive role models: 4 out of 5
Violence: 4 out of 5
Sex: 1 out of 5
Language: 3 out of 5
Drinking, drugs, and smoking: 1 out of 5
Consumerism: 3 out of 5 (Are products/advertisements embedded? Is the title part of a broader marketing initiative/empire? Is the intent to sell things to kids?)
In theaters: February 16, 2018
Director: Ryan Coogler
Studio: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Run time: 134 minutes
MPAA rating: PG-13