PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Real-life heroes and icons have been Chadwick Boseman’s stock-in-trade.
After all, he portrayed Jackie Robinson in 42, James Brown in Get On Up, and Thurgood Marshall in Marshall.
In his latest starring role, he switches from real life to reel life, so, no, he’s not playing Huey Newton in Black Panther.
That’s because it’s not a docudrama but a comic book-inspired superhero thriller featuring Marvel Studios’ first black leading man.
Boseman is T’Challa, who has, with precious little reluctance now that his father has passed, rightfully taken the throne as the king of the isolated, technologically advanced African (and fictional) nation of Wakanda, consisting of five tribes.
A big part of the reason that Wakanda is so far ahead of other nations is that residents have been mining an indestructible mineral called vibranium for a couple thousand years.
Needless to say, given vibranium’s near-mystical properties – it can power weapons, fuel flying vehicles, even cure disease — it beckons others who might desire to acquire it, especially if they sport names as generically villainous as Erik Killmonger, played by Michael B. Jordan.
So that the citizens of futuristic, high-tech Wakanda can preserve their momentous secrets and go about their private business, there is a holographic dome that gives the impression that this is an agrarian Third World country.
Still, some Wakandans want to keep the vibranium to themselves while other factions want to share it with the world for the good of everybody: it’s a fascinating political debate, one that adds gravitas to the film.
It also takes us down a road on which Wakanda could be dragged into a World War.
The title character, who first appeared on the comic-book page in 1966, was the first such black superhero, and was introduced on the movie screen in 2016 in Civil War: Captain America.
Director Ryan Coogler (Fruitvale Station, Creed), whose promising directorial career if off to an impressive 3-for-3 start, co-wrote the ambitious Afro-centric screenplay with Joe Robert Cole, then surrounded Boseman with such a sterling supporting ensemble that his protagonist is essentially nudged to the sidelines for stretches.
This could be a problem if not for the fact that the leadership-and-politics-exploring script for this operatic family drama makes room for a number of generously delineated important characters, many of them female, and splendid work from Lupita N’Yongo, Angela Bassett, Daniel
Kaluuya, Martin Freeman, Forest Whitaker, Andy Serkis, Letitia Wright, Danai Gurira, Sterling K. Brown, and Winston Duke.
Collectively, they seem to be, whether intentionally or not, delivering a rejoinder to certain recent public comments about African nations. And why shouldn’t they?
The acting in this PG-13-rated origin story is first-rate, the action exciting, the dialogue thoughtful, and the drama intense: there’s little if anything to complain about.
So we won’t. Instead, we’ll ascend to a throne of 3 1/2 stars out of 4 for a thoroughly stimulating action-adventure thriller. Black Panther is a rich, royal, resonant blast.