Movie News & Reviews

Critics shower Sac State alum’s ‘Black Panther’ with praise ahead of Friday release

Former Sacramento State student-athlete Ryan Coogler’s third feature film, Marvel’s “Black Panther,” has quickly established itself as a critical darling ahead of its nationwide debut Friday.

Writers for Polygon and IndieWire called “Black Panther” the best Marvel movie ever, and critics have generally concluded it belongs near the top of the cinematic universe’s 18-film lineup. All but three of the 146 reviews posted to Rotten Tomatoes as of Wednesday afternoon had been positive, giving “Black Panther” a 98 percent “certified fresh” score.

“May Marvel learn its lesson from ‘Black Panther’: When a movie like this ends up feeling both personal and vital, you’ve done something right,” wrote Michael Phillips of the Chicago Tribune.

“Say this about ‘Black Panther,’ which raises movie escapism very near the level of art: You’ve never seen anything like it in your life,” Peter Travers of Rolling Stone wrote.

Variety and The Hollywood Reporter are predicting “Black Panther” will bring in $165 million to $170 million in its domestic debut, which would best “Deadpool” (2016) as the highest-grossing President’s Day weekend release of all time.

The film focuses on T’Challa, played by Chadwick Boseman, who succeeds his father as king of the fictional African country Wakanda within the first half-hour. Never colonized and largely viewed as a pit of suffering by the rest of the world, Wakanda proves to be a technologically advanced supernation which Coogler “marshals … with confidence and flair,” according to Seattle Times arts critic Moira McDonald.

Lupita Nyong’o, Daniel Kaluuya, Angela Bassett, Forest Whitaker and Danai Gurira round out Marvel’s first predominantly black supporting cast, and Wired described director of photography Rachel Morrison as a “cinematic superhero” for her work in “Black Panther” as well as the Oscar-nominated “Mudbound.” The film’s soundtrack, which features Oak Park rapper Mozzy as well as hip-hop icons such as Kendrick Lamar and Travis Scott, is expected to debut atop the Billboard 200 albums chart next week.

Born in Oakland and raised in Richmond, Coogler spent his freshman year redshirting as a wide receiver at St. Mary’s College before the Moraga university dropped its football program. He transferred to Sacramento State in 2004 and caught 112 passes for the Hornets – sixth in program history – over four seasons.

While studying business administration at Sacramento State, Coogler began taking theater classes and showing script drafts to professors. One encouraged him to apply to USC’s School of Cinematic Arts after graduation, where he made his first short films and honed skills that soon led to his directorial debut “Fruitvale Station” (2013) and the Oscar-nominated “Creed” (2015).

Given the overwhelmingly positive response to “Black Panther” as well as “Creed” and “Fruitvale Station,” which earned 95 and 94 percent critical approval respectively on Rotten Tomatoes, the Washington Post questioned whether Coogler may be the best young director of his generation. Other household names such as Guillermo del Toro and Christopher Nolan fell short on at least one movie within their first three releases, the Post noted.

All three of Coogler’s movies star Michael B. Jordan, who reportedly steals scenes from T’Challa as villain Erik Killmonger – or as AV Club called him, the most complex superhero antagonist since Heath Ledger’s Joker in “The Dark Knight.” Jordan is also cast as the lead in “Wrong Answer,” Coogler’s in-progress film on the Atlanta Public Schools cheating scandal.

Inspired by a similar challenge in Harlem, a group of young men in Sacramento have created a GoFundMe page with the goal of sending 200 kids and 27 chaperones to see “Black Panther.” They had raised nearly $3,000 of their $5,500 goal as of Wednesday afternoon.

Benjy Egel: 916-321-1052, @BenjyEgel

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