By John Mulderig
Director and co-writer Ryan Coogler’s adaptation of Black Panther is sprawling, energetic, lightened by some clever humour but, ultimately, overlong.
Though the mayhem on screen, which ranges from hand-to-hand combat to a high-flying, high-tech dogfight, is treated with restraint, touches of vulgarity may give some parents of older teens pause.
Weighing on the other side of the scale, however, is the racial empowerment that drives the narrative and the significant themes the film tackles in a thoughtful way.
Stan Lee and Jack Kirby first launched the Marvel Comics character of the title in 1966.
The primary setting of Black Panther is the imaginary and secret African kingdom of Wakanda.
As straightforward exposition at the start of the movie explains, Wakanda’s inhabitants have, over the centuries, made use of a super-powerful mineral, vibranium, to achieve both prosperity and a range of technological wonders unknown to the outside world.
When Wakanda’s young prince, T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) assumes the throne, and thereby becomes the Black Panther, he intends to continue the policy of his late father, King T’Chaka (John Kani), by keeping Wakanda concealed from foreigners.
But, he faces two principal challenges.
One involves South African arms dealer Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis). Klaue has managed to infiltrate Wakanda and steal a stock of vibranium, which he aims to sell to the highest bidder.
The other concerns the ongoing consequences of a long-ago family conflict (involving Michael B Jordan) that has the potential to dethrone T’Challa and destabilise Wakanda.
In tackling these problems, T’Challa is aided by his tech-savvy sister Shuri (Letitia Wright), Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o), the woman he would like to make his queen, Okoye (Danai Gurira), the leader of his army’s band of fierce female warriors, and, eventually, by Everett K Ross (Martin Freeman), a CIA agent out to foil Klaue.
Real-world preoccupations are incorporated into this sci-fi-tinged action adventure. The Wakandans, for instance, debate whether they should put their own security at risk in order to assist downtrodden people of colour in other nations.
Plot developments also present characters with moral choices.
Ceremonies and customs drawn, however indirectly, from indigenous African religions are showcased. But they are contained within the picture’s framework of fantasy, and will probably not cause mature adolescents any spiritual confusion.
The film contains non-scriptural religious ideas and practices, much stylised violence with minimal gore, several crude and at least one crass term and an obscene gesture.