Movie and Film Reviews (MFR) Action,Adventure,Sci-Fi Black Panther: Wakanda Forever

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever

2022 | PG-13 | starring Letitia Wright, Angela Bassett, Danai Gurira, Tenach Huerta, Winston Duke, Lupita Nyong’o, Dominique Thorne, Martin Freeman, Julia Louis-Dryfuss | directed by Ryan Coogler | 2h 41m |

Following the death of King T’Challa and his decision to open up Wakanda to the world, his mother, Queen Ramonda  (Angela Bassett) fends off a world coming for their Vibranium. T’Challa’s sister Princess Shuri (Letitia Wright)’s grief is complicated by the emerging threat of a Namor (Tenoch  Huerta), a king of an underwater civilization that is threatened by a vibranium detecting device invented by a 19 year old MIT student, Riri (Dominique Thorne) forcing managing her new leadership role to find the inventor and fight off the underwater army.

2018’s Black Panther was a massive hit and a cultural touchstone. The death of it’s star Chadwick Boseman created an impossible set of options for director Ryan Coogler and the crew at Marvel that I wouldn’t wish on anyone. At the same time, the franchise cannot not continue and Boseman cannot be recast and just move on. What Coogler comes up with for Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is a movie that has to pack in a lot. It has to pay tribute to it’s star, re-cast the role, have it’s own independent story, be a superhero adventure movie and do all the usual Marvel universe plug-ins. It’s a massive 3 hours in length giving it a gravitas, some of it earned, some of it simply bloated.

For Wakanda Forever, we spend a lot more time in Wakanda than we did in the first Black Panther. It simply goes to highlight that despite the supposed worldbuilding of this city, these movies spend very little time in the city supposedly at the center of it. Where the first film jetted off to South Korea, this one spends more time in Boston, Haiti and South America than it does in Wakanda. The actual world building mechanics of how Wakanda actually works in it’s economy, leisure time, education, law enforcement are all still a mystery, with the focus remaining on the scientific and government bodies in the palace.

The performances are uniformly great, with Angela Bassett given a lot of meaty speeches to chew through and Latitia Wright (Black Mirror) stepping up from comic relief figure to series lead with confidence. She is the best thing in this movie. The overall structure changes from Black Panther’s hero’s journey to an ensemble and it’s all the better for it. I liked Wakanda Forever more than Black Panther, which is more of a statement that I admired it more than I was entertained by it.

Coogler seems to have been given a lot more leeway with the film. Where the first film immediately cut into a typical Marvel battle scene when the time for the third act rolled around, Forever feels more like an independent film with it’s own vision than almost any other Marvel film to date. It is indulgent and excessive to a fault, a vision that could have used a few more passes in the editing bay. it looks great and is full of tone-perfect dower fight scenes without an “exciting” musical soundtrack. The film takes a unique approach that works for it’s story of grief but is at odds with fulfilling the mandates of a superhero film. I appreciated the emphasis on grief. With all the elevated horror movies about processing grief, this was one movie that attempted to tackle that from the unexpected direction of a superhero film.

The movie drags in the middle, when it starts to build out it’s villain and side-characters. We didn’t need a back story for Namor but the flashback is kind of cool. Back stories are overrated and unnecessary storytelling tools that keep getting shoved into movies because of the influence of Star Wars and it’s fans insistence that All Things Star Wars define good storytelling. A big issue at the center of the film is a side-quest to Boston and the forced inclusion of Riri to set up the character of Ironheart for future Marvel products. It’s absurd on it’s face and unconvincingly sold that a college student has built technology that stumps the CIA and outpaces Tony Stark and the character ends up adding almost nothing to the final product. The script so often refers to capturing “the scientist”, it seems like it was written for an adult, completely different, character, and Ironheart was shoved in a re-write by Kevin Fiege at the last minute.

Yet, overall I think the criticism that this movie is a product of the Marvel machine is one that more fits the original Black Panther than Wakanda Forever. This film doesn’t feel inauthentic. It doesn’t feel like the work of the usual Marvel assembly line. It’s long, and lingers and is somewhat silly but in the moments when it works, it works in a way that feels completely different than anything else in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I greatly appreciated it.

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