After a slow start, ‘Black Panther’ impresses with acting, action, tech

February 23, 2018 GMT

I went into “Black Panther,” directed by Ryan Coogler (“Creed,” “Fruitvale Station”), with preconceived notions that I was not going to be thrilled by it.

Having seen the underwhelming trailers, coupled with the sorrowful attempt on the small screen to rush a generic equivalent (“Black Lightning”) ahead of this movie, I was amazed at the film’s Rotten Tomatoes rating on the opening weekend.

The beginning of the movie proved me correct; however, about a half hour in, I began to see a nice (although a bit corny) story develop and although the plot seemed to push a little too much black heritage and too little “Sok! Pow!” I was hooked on it.

The dialogue could have been better, but the characters worked well together, and although I thought the 3-D CGI started out weak (I am NOT a fan of modern day 3-D) it got better as it went along.

Chadwick Boseman (“Marshall,” “42,” “Gods of Egypt”) as T’Challa, aka the Black Panther, did well in a storyline that kept him front and center for quite a while, then dumped him further in (I won’t spoil it for you).

As Erik Killmonger, Michael B. Jordan (“Friday Night Lights,” “Creed,” “Fruitvale Station”) showed the most “chops” of all of the main players, and placing him as the secondary alpha dog was a stroke of genius on Coogler’s part.

Lupita Nyoug’o (“12 Years a Slave,” “Shuga,” “Non-Stop”), as Nakia, should have had more to do, but did great with what she had to work with, while Danal Gurira (“The Walking Dead,” “Treme,” “All Eyez on Me”) as the warrior Okoye, took care of business in a role that tried to hold her back.

Dudley Moore look-alike (at least, I think so) Martin Freeman (“The Hobbit” franchise, “Sherlock,” “Fargo”) returns as Marvel’s Agent Everett K. Ross, and has fun with a role where he tries to be serious, but so much wants to be Maxwell Smart.

The Powers That Be tried hard to make Letitia Wright (“Humans,” “The Commuter,” “Top Boy”) into a second-tier role, but I think she foiled them. As Shuri, the technological wizard of Wakanda (think Pauley Perrette in “NCIS” or James Bond’s “Q”), Wright is the cutest little action figure wannabe on film.

Hers was one of the most fun parts of watching this movie.

Big stars in small roles on the second-tier include Forest Whitaker (“Good Morning, Vietnam,” “The Last King of Scotland,” “Article 99”) as Zuri, the advisor/confidant to King T’Challa, as well as Angela Bassett (“What’s Love Got to Do with It?,” “American Horror Story,” “ER”) as Ramonda, mother of the young king.

Both are as magical in their small performances as any starring roles that they have ever had.

Andy Serkis (“Lord of the Rings” franchise, contemporary “Planet of the Apes” series, “Shiner”) appears as the extremely weird Ulysses Klaue, a needless character who still adds zest to the mixture.

The best way I can describe “Black Panther” is by saying that the movie seemed to improve exponentially as it progressed — especially the plot line, the action sequences and all of the technological film-making skills.

It wasn’t like trial-anderror on Coogler’s part (he is a good director), it’s as though he and/or others weren’t really invested in the whole deal, but as they went along, the movie GREW on them.

By the time the last credits crawl off the screen, we have seen a good movie, cheapened by over-hype by the studio, but still, a good movie.

Billy Summers is a freelance photographer who also reviews films for the Putnam Herald. He can be reached at summers855@yahoo.com.