It is completely possible to hold two thoughts in your head at the same time...a less-than-positive review of "Black Panther: Wakanda Forever" - which is forthcoming - does not take away one iota from the fact that the late Chadwick Boseman was and is one of the most iconic, talented cinematic presences of his generation. Nor should it take away the impact or the historic importance of the first "Black Panther" movie, and what it means to millions of its fans across the world.
The loss of Boseman is felt deeply, and in "Wakanda Forever," it resonates through to the characters of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), who are mourning the loss of Boseman's character, Black Panther himself, the King of Wakanda, T'Challa.
But while the movie draws strength and motivation from his lasting legacy, it throws the amazing fictional nation of Wakanda under the bus, in an attempt to build up a new emerging (submerged?) nation, Talukon. The result is an over-serious, over-stuffed MCU film that never is quite able to sustain the emotional weight of its first 15 minutes.
When "Wakanda Forever" begins, T'Challa's scientist sister, Shuri (Letitia Wright) is racing against time, trying to save her brother who is battling an unknown (and unnamed) illness off-screen. But her efforts are too late. Queen Ramonda (Angela Bassett) somberly steps in and announces that they are too late...their King is gone.
While Wakanda mourns, the rest of the world moves on and continues to press the Queen to share Wakanda's resources with the rest of the world...namely, that God-powered element, Vibranium, that is native to Wakanda. The Queen refuses, knowing that this powerful metal will only be misused when put in the wrong hands.
None of these worldwide politics come into play based on how they're set up, but in a secret operation in the middle of the ocean, the CIA discovers that Vibranium does exist outside of Wakanda, on the ocean floor. As they meddle in their quest to obtain this rare metal, an underwater kingdom of sea-people are awakened, with their King, Namor (Tenoch Huerta) at the forefront.
While Namor (known as the Sub-Mariner to comic geeks) is a very interesting addition to the MCU - whose origin story brings with it some long-awaited, exciting news for us fans - his motivations in this film are flimsy and forced. Feeling threatened from the outside world (for the first time, I guess?), he wants Wakanda to join him in making the human world pay. So how does he do this? By attacking and infiltrating Wakanda of course! That'll win them over!
Of course, none of this makes sense, mostly because it's pretty clear that Namor could dominate the rest of the world without Wakanda's help in the first place. But also it feeds into the ongoing MCU problem of continuity...surely half of Namor's population disappeared in the Thanos snap, if we're to believe that continuity exists? Was that not enough to awaken them from the depths of the ocean? If ever there was a time to use "SMH," now would be the time to do so.
The movie works better when it focuses on Shuri's acceptance of her brother's death, and her slow-burning calling as the next protector of Wakanda. But even that story thread gets muddled, with the presence of Riri (Dominique Thorne), who is set to have her own Disney+ series as the star of the upcoming "IronHeart."
Then, don't even get me started on the throw-away plot thread involving agents Everett Ross (Martin Freeman) and his love-interest/partner, Valentina Allegra de Fontaine (Julia Louis-Dreyfus). Valentina - who up until this point has appeared in end-credit sequences in a few Disney+ series and at the end of the "Black Widow" film - had been a mysterious villain who was recruiting a bunch of potential baddies to form some kind of secret team...sort of the Yin to Nick Fury's Yang in having formed The Avengers. But in "Wakanda Forever," her character is completely flat and uninteresting...and unnecessary? I really am struggling to even understand what she was even doing in this newest film.
Ryan Coogler's action scenes too, are a mess. While I liked the character of Namor, and the performances - namely from Letitia Wright and Angela Bassett - this is one giant headache of a film...a loud, messy, unfocused clash of the senses. It's self-contained, I guess, but it also annoys us with gratuitous plugs for other, upcoming shows and/or movies...yes, we expect this at this point of the MCU's evolution, but it doesn't make it any easier to endure.
In trying to make us fear this new underwater nation, they effectively take away all that was great and unique about Wakanda in the process. Not worth it, in my opinion, to lose not only our hero (which we had no choice in the matter) but this one-of-a-kind cinematic nation (which did not have to succumb to the demands of the MCU's desire to churn forward). In attempting to build up how powerful Namor is, it tears down what made Wakanda special, and that, I feel, is a poor decision that only waters down (pun intended) these films going forward.
"Black Panther: Wakanda Forever" pays tribute to Chadwick Boseman, who will never be forgotten. For the MCU however, it's keep on rolling. New blood, new mantle, new characters, but at the end, it's the same old same old.
Genre: Action, Adventure, Drama.
Run Time: 2 hours 41 minutes.
Starring: Letitia Wright, Lupita Nyong'o, Angela Bassett, Danai Gurira, Tenoch Huerta, Winston Duke, Martin Freeman, Dominique Thorne, Julia Louis-Dreyfus.
Co-Written and Directed by Ryan Coogler ("Black Panther," "Creed," "Fruitvale Station").
"Black Panther: Wakanda Forever" is in theaters on Friday, November 11th, 2022.
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