Arriving a decade after “Iron Man” effectively launched the Marvel Cinematic Universe, “Black Panther” is the first major superhero movie to feature a predominantly black cast, with Chadwick Boseman reprising the title role he introduced two summers ago in “Captain America: Civil War.”
Ever since that debut, the Wakandan drumbeat has only grown louder in anticipation of the first solo film for T’Challa — a character created a long half-century ago by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, amid the heat and height of the civil rights movement.
The Disney/Marvel film scores on “87” aggregate score on the review site Metacritic, which will rank as the highest scoring Marvel character movie if the tally stands, topping even 2004’s “Spider-Man 2″ (83 aggregate score).
Meanwhile, at Rotten Tomatoes, “Black Panther” is scoring a pure 100 percent “fresh” after the first 50 reviews. (At this rate, the question arises: Will it top this year’s “Paddington 2″ — the highest-scoring Rotten Tomatoes film, with 180 positive reviews against zero negative critiques?)
And despite advance controversy over an alt-right supporter’s threat to attack the site with poor “Black Panther” scores, the early average audience score at Rotten Tomatoes was a sterling 4.4 out of 5.
High marks come from Rolling Stone’s Peter Travers, who says that the film raises “movie escapism very near the level of art” (a compliment that packs an odd backhanded bias), and USA Today’s Brian Truitt, who praises the “rousing” movie’s deep themes and visual depiction of Wakanda, the fictional, self-ruling and technologically advanced African nation that holds secret stores of the powerful material Vibranium.
IndieWire’s David Ehrlich calls “Black Panther” the first superhero movie “that flows with a genuine sense of culture and identity, memory and musicality,” and the Los Angeles Times’s Kenneth Turan trumpets the movie’s “myriad of Afrocentric influences.” And the New York Times’s Manohla Dargis spotlights the film’s “emphasis on black imagination, creation and liberation.”
Among early reviews, such words as “thrilling,” “confident” and “grounded” are popping up, as the Associated Press’s Jake Coyle calls this an “overdue cinematic landmark.”
Critics are also hailing how “Black Panther” tackles complex themes while still maintaining its sense of high action. The PG-13-rated “Black Panther,” writes IGN’s Jim Vejvoda, nails the trifecta as “an adventure film, a political statement and a cultural celebration.”
So how is Boseman in the role now that he’s front and center?
Rolling Stone calls him “tremendous,” a “stunningly versatile actor” who knows a little something about playing larger-than-life figures, having previously portrayed Jackie Robinson, James Brown and Thurgood Marshall.
Past Coogler star Michael B. Jordan (from “Creed” and “Fruitvale Station”) draws praise as the “politically engaged” villainous Killmonger — which is good news for Jordan after he endured “Fantastic Four,” 2015’s flop featuring Marvel characters.
Such Oscar winners and nominees as Lupita Nyong’o, Forest Whitaker, Angela Bassett and Daniel Kaluuya also receive plaudits, as do Letitia Wright and Danai Gurira.
What critics are often noting, too, is the degree to which this film is a beacon for superhero films that could strive to be more than emotionally and socially hollow enterprises, as well as for a Hollywood that should see much to embrace here, from casting to rich character work.
“Black Panther” is expected to gross as much as $150 million in its domestic debut, reports Deadline — a commercial result that would reflect the critical reception.