New to On Demand: Black Panther

Black Panther © 2018 Marvel Studios Credit: Matt Kennedy

Black Panther Claws His Way To The Top By Stephen Whitty

There’s a new kind of Marvel superhero on the prowl.

Black Panther isn’t just a different kind of comic-book movie, though, touched with politics and James Bond adventure. It’s a big-screen breakthrough that gives kids — and adults — a bold black hero and an alternative history lesson.

In this adventure, there’s a vast African empire, Wakanda, that’s never been scarred by invasion or slavery. Happily hidden away from the world, its people live peaceful lives, made even easier by their vast resources and high-tech achievements.

But when an arms dealer threatens that by stealing the secret of their amazing power source, it’s up to King T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) to put on the disguise of Black Panther and get it back.

Boseman is intense and inspiring in the role, but it’s the supporting cast that adds real life. Andy Serkis chews some scenery as an international criminal. Michael B. Jordan is fiery as T’Challa’s conflicted, and complicated, rival.

And Black Panther’s real superpower turns out to be the strong women in his life — including Angela Bassett as his elegantly regal mother and Lupita Nyong’o as his intelligent and independent ex.

The teasing Letitia Wright also delivers some fun (and another role model) as his kid sister, a scientific prodigy, while a fierce Danai Gurira (The Walking Dead) is his formidable military chief of staff.

The movie’s a definite change from the superhero stereotypes, sexist assumptions and African clichés in other Hollywood films. There’s even a real, and serious, subplot about whether true political progress can ever be achieved peacefully, or always requires violent action.

But this isn’t some politically correct sermon. It’s a genuine adventure, with exciting chases and a pull-out-all-the-stops climax that will have any Marvel maniac cheering.

Occasionally things get a little too serious — it’d be nice if the king occasionally cracked a joke, or at least a smile. And although the budget was big, it wasn’t Avengers size; it’s clear from the effects that director Ryan Coogler sometimes had to do less with less.

But this is still a truly fun film — and only this cat’s first life. It’s exciting to think about what the next eight will bring.

Black Panther is available On Demand beginning May 15. Check your cable system for availability.