Marvel‘s latest comic book entry in its Cinematic Universe brings us its first superhero of African descent. Stan Lee and Jack Kirby first introduced the title character in a 1966 edition of Fantastic Four. The film presents us with a story that feels like a strange melding of The Lion King, Batman and any James Bond film. The man inside the tight-fitting outfit this time around is known as T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman). He takes power of the obscure African nation of Wakanda, a land rich in a fantastical mineral called vibranium. It’s a powerful resource that the rest of the world is so desperate to control. T’Challa’s predecessors invented a means to hide their nation behind a cloak of invisibility. That’s far from the only challenge for the new king. T’Challa’s father left him to discover a dark secret that threatens to destroy everything that the old king worked to maintain.
This is an origin story with no intention of avoiding the inevitable battle sequences. Most original superhero tales spend half (or more) of their running time explaining intricate details of the story behind the story. It’s not until well into such films when the character faces off against an imposing foe. Not so here, and for me, that’s a bit of a letdown. Action fans will no doubt be thrilled.
The characters of the film are surprisingly rich in personality. Boseman is the perfect choice as a lead with whom we can connect. His initial nemesis, Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis), serves up nearly as many timely jokes as explosions. Archvillain Erik Killmonger gains immeasurable menacing traits from yet another bankable performance by Michael B. Jordan. T’Challa’s sister Shuri (Letitia Wright) is to her brother almost exactly what Q is to James Bond and every bit as entertaining. The real standout is T’Challa’s chief military leader General Okoye (Danai Gurira). Her portrayal lights up the screen in every scene that she’s in. We know the moment that we see her that another memorable moment is about to unfold. In fact, the landscape is so laden with personality that other major players can barely register a blip.
The visuals and soundtrack are often jaw-dropping, but occasionally push the envelope a bit too far. It’s a bit wordy, it’s a bit too long and the fight scenes aren’t as engaging as they could be, but overall, it’s a fresh new entry that’s more than enjoyable to experience.