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'Black Panther' review: A sleek Marvel of a kingly superhero

Black Panther' — 3.5 stars

MPAA rating: PG-13 (for prolonged sequences of action violence, and a brief rude gesture)

 

Running time: 2:20

Even if it had nothing else going for it, Black Panther would still be the best-looking Marvel movie yet. Supersaturated with vivid afro-futurism and as bold and riotous as a rack of dashiki print shirts, it looks like a particularly excitable Sun Ra album cover. Fortunately, the film doesn’t trade on looks alone.

The score, by Ludwig Göransson and Kendrick Lamar, combines primal beats with the growling purr of a pack of big cats. Cannily, and unusually for a Marvel picture, Black Panther unfolds in a pretty much self-contained world. There are no smirking cameos from the likes of Tony Stark. The closest we get to acknowledging the Marvel universe is a reference to the death of the father of T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman), an event that happened in 2016’s Captain America: Civil War, and a bad guy who first popped up in Avengers: Age of Ultron.

T’Challa inherits the throne of Wakanda, the secretive techtropolis that has concealed itself from the rest of the world. And he assumes the mantle of Black Panther, complete with an impenetrable battle suit engineered by his genius kid sister, Shuri (Letitia Wright, who gets to play with most of the best lines as well as all the cool kit). Supporting T’Challa is Wakanda’s top warrior, Okoye (Danai Gurira), lethal with a spear but who also, in one gif-friendly shot, does an impressive amount of damage by hurling her wig.

Peril comes from Andy Serkis, great fun as Ulysses Klaue, a piratical South African with a grin that looks as though he chews lightbulbs for breakfast. Plus there is a challenger to the throne: Erik Killmonger (Michael B Jordan) is the cousin that T’Challa never knew he had. And this is a weak point – Erik’s backstory doesn’t seem to fully explain the frothing hate machine he becomes. The film also falls into the traditional Marvel third-act trap: for all the attack rhinos and the tribal factionalism, it’s still just a big, noisy CGI battle climax