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What's the big deal?
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is a dramatic superhero film released in 2022 and is the sequel to the 2018 film Black Panther. The 30th film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the film sees the kingdom of Wakanda reeling from the death of its king T'Challa as well as facing off against enemies old and new. The film's ensemble cast is led by Letitia Wright, Angela Bassett, Lupita Nyong'o, Dania Gurira, Winston Duke, Dominique Thorne, Martin Freeman, Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Tenoch Huerta. The film was written and directed by Ryan Coogler and was obviously delayed by the unfortunate passing of Chadwick Boseman, the star of the first film, in 2020. The decision was taken not to recast Boseman's role within the MCU and the film serves as an emotional tribute to the late actor. Released to a positive reception from critics, the film garnered praise for its production design and performances - particularly Bassett, Wright, Gurira and Huerta but its long running time was criticised by some. At the time of writing, the film has already earned more than $561 million worldwide (although this will doubtless increase) and Bassett's performance as Queen Ramonda is being discussed for possible Oscar contention.
What's it about?
Despite the efforts of his sister Shuri, T'Challa - king of the advanced African nation of Wakanda and the eponymous Black Panther - succumbs to an illness and dies. As power shifts to his mother Queen Ramonda, the rest of the world looks to Wakanda to share its most prized natural resource, the supernaturally strong metal vibranium. Political pressure exerts itself on Ramonda while various armed groups attempt to steal it for themselves. But Ramonda is adamant that they will not share the vibranium with anyone, despite knowing that Wakanda is the only place on Earth where it can be found.
However, this may not necessarily be the case as a scientific genius in America has invented a vibranium-detecting machine which discovers it buried deep on the ocean floor. A CIA-led operation begins to recover it but encounters violent resistance and is thwarted. Believing the Wakandans to be responsible, CIA Agent Everett Ross discovers that there may be more to this than first appears as Ramonda and Shuri encounter a mysterious mutant called Namor, the leader of a sub-aquatic race of warriors ready to wage war on the surface world...
What's to like?
It would be inevitable that the shadow of Boseman's passing would hang over the film. I don't envy Coogler working on a film like this, given the circumstances but credit to him for crafting a decent follow-up that not only serves as a tribute to Boseman but also delivers far more emotional heft than the MCU has provided thus far. Like the first Black Panther, the film is a celebration of African culture with costume, set design and soundtrack all contributing to create a wonderful and diverse atmosphere that separates it from its many stablemates. Story-wise, the film can't ignore the lack of Boseman's presence and is dominated by feelings of grief, loss and a struggle for identity. This is a film that lets its cast provide the fireworks instead of CG-heavy action sequences (although there are still some) and boy, do the cast not disappoint.
Bassett is fantastic as Ramonda, the new queen of Wakanda struggling to come to terms with her own grief at the loss of her son. Gurira and Lyong'o are also excellent but for me, the film belongs to Wright. Shuri's character arc is not just believable but resonates with me personally, as someone who lost a loved one in the last couple of years. I understood her rage and rebellion, her withdrawal to her own world and her fruitless searching for answers that will never come. Shuri has gone from being a gifted but comedic sidekick in the first film to a powerful hero in her own right and I can't wait to see what happens next. I also have to praise Huerta's performance as Namor, a dark and aquatic mirror of T'Challa in his own way as the leader of his people defending them from outside forces. I liked the Mesoamerican design of the character, reinventing it from the more silly origins depicted in the comics to a more believable, almost sympathetic individual. Crucially, the role also raises clues as to the future direction of the MCU with just the use of a single word: "mutant". Fans have been clamouring for the X-Men to be introduced into the MCU now that the pre-existing X-Men film series seems to have dried up for good and hopefully, we're getting a taste of this soon.
- Despite the film's tribute to Chadwick Boseman including a unique Marvel Studios logo sequence featuring just images of the star, his brother Derrick was opposed to the idea of the character being killed off with him. He claimed that Chadwick would prefer the role of T'Challa be recast and his story continue.
- Huerta received Marvel's first-ever "Introducing" credit, a gesture normally reserved for actors making their film debut. Huerta made his feature film debut in 2006's On The Edge and more recently appeared in films such as Bel Canto and The Forever Purge.
- Part of the reason for rewriting Namor's history is actually down to conflict with Marvel's old rivals, DC. In the comics, Namor is the ruler of the underwater realm of Atlantis which coincides with that of DC's own aquatic superhero, Aquaman. The filmmakers were attempting to distinguish Namor from the Aquaman films so the kingdom was instead renamed Talokan - a nod to an Aztec underwater realm and an Aztec god, Tlaloc.
- In the film, the character's name Namor apparently derives from the Spanish phrase "the boy without love". In the comics, Namor is Atlantean for "avenging son". In real life, the name was simply the word "Roman" in reverse.
What's not to like?
There's no disguising the fact that Wakanda Forever feels like a different proposition from the first film - not a surprise, perhaps but it takes a notably different tone. It lacks a lot of the originality and imagination of the first film as well as the fun and enjoyment. Wakanda Forever is steeped in its own grief and never quite reaches the same heights as its predecessor. The action scenes, while still competent and well-made, are far fewer this time around and the few moments of comic relief in the film are a welcome break from all the introspection. I also felt that despite the running time, certain characters were underwritten or not developed fully. I'm not a Marvel comics fanboy so I had no idea who Riri Williams was supposed to be so the use of her Iron Man-style powered suit came out of nowhere (for uninitiated readers, she is also known as Ironheart - a character only created in 2016 - and due to appear in her own TV spin-off soon). I also wanted to know more about Lyong'o's Nakia role - what happened between the first film and this as the character feel very different.
The film is slightly too long, almost to the point of self-indulgence and there are scenes and sequences which feel redundant. For example, the aquatic assault on the vibranium mining operation feels like a mini-movie in its own right and I honestly didn't feel like the scenes involving Freeman and Louis-Dreyfus added anything at all to the film - as much as I love the pair of them. I also wasn't a fan of the final confrontation which didn't make a whole lot of sense to me. On the whole, I prefer the first film just because it's more enjoyable as an overall experience but both Black Panther films offer something different - not just to other Marvel films but superhero films in general. It's refreshing to see so many actors of colour representing themselves in a positive way, especially the film's strong female cast who are uniformly brilliant.
Should I watch this?
Wakanda Forever is a real statement picture, one that isn't afraid to demonstrate its own feelings of grief in the manner of a big budget superhero film. It's well made, superbly performed and wonderfully scored by Ludwig Göransson but it can't quite escape the elephant in its room. The ghost of Chadwick Boseman is everywhere in this film and while it could come across as a bit ghoulish, the film serves as a fine tribute to a star that left us far too soon. But it remembers its other characters as well and thanks to a truly star-making turn from Wright and typical brilliance from Bassett (who should at least be nominated for Best Supporting Actress), the film does just enough to stop itself becoming a cinematic funeral.
Great For: African representation on screen, female representation on screen, rescuing the Black Panther from possible retirement
Not So Great For: anyone expecting a similar experience to the first film, small bladders, James Cameron's forthcoming Avatar: The Way Of Water because this film provides us with all the blue people underwater we'll ever need
What else should I watch?
Wakanda Forever apparently marks the end of Marvel's Phase Four, a series of interconnected films and TV shows covering the world of the MCU in the aftermath of the Earth-shattering events of Avengers: Endgame. Unfortunately, I feel that this has been Marvel's weakest line-up of films so far - I can't honestly say that I recommend Black Widow or Eternals which felt undercooked and underwhelming. Shang-Chi And The Legend Of The Ten Rings was decent, as was the third Spider-Man film No Way Home and I have yet to watch the last Thor film, Love And Thunder. But this stretch of films have certainly lacked some of the focus and long-term storytelling that were the hallmarks of the MCU previously. Here's hoping that they rediscover their mojo soon - and stop making so many TV shows folks can't watch as not everyone subscribes to certain streaming services. And even if they did, they'd go out of their minds watching everything Marvel stamps their logo on - eight series and a TV special. We have lives to live, dammit!
I do worry about Marvel resting on their laurels, having dominated the superhero genre since 2008 with its ever-expanding cinematic universe. They no longer have the monopoly with DC finally getting their act together and producing films of their own that don't entirely suck. The Batman may be yet another reboot for the Caped Crusader but Robert Pattinson's performance won over a number of critics and the film is a dark return to form for the character after the bloated excesses of Ben Affleck's tenure beneath the cowl. Black Adam finally saw the most superhero-shaped star of all, Dwayne Johnson, adopt a signature role within superhero heroes although it's perhaps too early to tell whether he'll return to the role in future. One film that is getting a sequel is perhaps the most enjoyable Spider-Man film of all, the animated Into The Spider-Verse which Sony developed in conjunction with Marvel themselves. The film is a riotous blend of comic-style artwork, multiple characters and energetic direction which we will hopefully see again in the forthcoming sequel, Across The Spider-Verse, which is due for release in 2023.
K’uk’ulkan / Namor
Everett K. Ross
Valentina Allegra de Fontaine
Ryan Coogler & Joe Robert Cole*
Release Date (UK)
11th November, 2022
Action, Adventure, Drama, Superhero
© 2022 Benjamin Cox