BLACK PANTHER: I freely admit some trepidation when pre-release hype about a movie positions it as a kind of cultural/sociological groundbreaker. While I’m glad that there’s finally a film with a black superhero and a predominant cast of people of color, the real issue is whether it’s a work of merit. Frankly, I think it’s pretty average. The overriding flaw is that the title character feels somewhat secondary to the more empowered females within his circle (See CLOSING CREDITS.). It’s sort of like how the THOR flicks all seem incomplete unless Loki turns up to complicate matters. Joe Robert Cole and co-writer/director Ryan Coogler’s (FRUITVALE STATION) screenplay returns T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) to his technologically advanced homeland of Wakanda where he must protect a powerful energy source called Vibranium from falling into the wrong hands. Such a scenario dictates the presence of a villain who wants to do just that and we get double trouble from a rather pointless figure in Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis) and his mercenary with the oh so apropos name of Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) whose flawed, damaged psyche make him the most compelling character in the whole movie. Ruth E. Carter’s costumes are ornately vibrant but for a film that likely wants to shatter racial stereotypes, there are sure a lot of black people walking around with spears. There’s a flashy car chase through a South Korean metropolis with splendid production and set design from Hannah Beachler plus a near half-hour long battle sequence that had me wondering why both sides were using such primitive weapons. I mean, who needs to fight hand-to-hand or with swords when you’ve got Vibranium? The primary plot is the familiar one of power passing from one generation to the next. With the African landscape, though, it comes off as a derivative, live action version of THE LION KING (1994) where a next in line ruler attempts to forge his own identity and rightful place within his domain. Boseman (42, GET ON UP), whose made a career of playing just about every famous black person who ever lived, lacks a necessary charismatic presence that makes his superhero not so super or terribly heroic despite the fact that he does save Wakanda for the inevitable sequel. When Gertrude Stein said about the city of Oakland, where some of this work’s backstory is set, that “there’s no ‘there’ there”, she could just as easily have been referring to this splashy but uneven Marvel movie. CRITIC’S GRADE: C+
CLOSING CREDITS: In the movie’s first post-credit scene, T’Challa, Okoye (Danai Gurira) and Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o) visit the United Nations where he tells the delegation that he wants to share Wakanda’s technology with the world and end its “isolationist” type foreign policy (Hmmm…). Keep in mind that most people believe Wakanda to be a third world African country. But with Vibranium, the fictitious nation could wield an important role in this year’s upcoming AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR. The second concluding sequence finds Bucky Barnes a.k.a. Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan) waking up in Wakanda under the care of T’Challa’s little sister Shuri (Letitia Wright). This scene alludes back to CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR (2016) when T’Challa promised that Marvel character (Chris Evans) to “rehabilitate” Bucky after he had his metal arm shot off. Like Q in the Bond films, Shuri is Wakanda’s developer of technology and could very well have be in the process of redirecting Bucky’s brain away from his prior Cold War influences.