It's a great relief to confirm that Black Panther is genuinely worth rooting for, a clear standout on the Marvel movie roster. It's only Ryan Coogler's third feature, but it's executed with the confidence of a far more experienced filmmaker. It's a case of the right story landing in the right hands. As with Creed, Coogler again freshens up a stale formula, making something familiar not just relevant but urgent.
Chadwick Boseman plays King T'Challa, aka the Black Panther, a monarch and superhero who hails from the fictional country Wakanda, an African tech-utopia that has never been conquered and is uniquely rich. This Edenic world is fully realized on screen thanks to Hannah Beachler's paradisiacal production design and Ruth E. Carter's traditional-meets-futuristic costume design, and captured by Coogler's Fruitvale Station director of photography, Rachel Morrison.
Watching T'Challa's female warriors/bodyguards fight together -- the general Okoye (Danai Gurira), spy Nakia (Lupita Nyong'o) and T'Challa's tech-savvy younger sister Shuri (Letitia Wright) -- I couldn't help but think how the three would justify a Charlie's Angels reboot. Black Panther goes full Fast and Furious in a car chase on the streets of the practically undrivable Busan, South Korea.
At times the charisma of the actresses -- like Michael B. Jordan, who plays the villain -- overwhelms Boseman's. That's partly in character, as T'Challa is a king who thinks of and serves his people, the kind of monarch who puts the kingdom first. In that regard, Black Panther is smart to give equally exhilarating fighting scenes for the Dora Milaje (those bodyguards) as it does for Black Panther himself. Newcomer Wright, especially, is a revelation -- she's got the spunk, the punchlines, the outfits and the heart.