SPOILERS NEAR END OF BLOG
Like many other Phase Four MCU films Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is pretty good, just not great.
This project was without a doubt one of the most anticipated Marvel films of all time for a number of reasons, whether those reasons were fair or unfair. The first Black Panther remains one of their reigning accomplishments. The world building, characters, tie-ins to the MCU, and storytelling instantly cemented the story of T’Challa and Wakanda as one of Marvel’s best. After Chadwick Boseman’s sudden passing, we lost the heart and soul one what was becoming one of the great franchises of our time. Obviously one of the questions that arised was how Marvel was going to handle T’Challa’s story moving forward. Because of that intrigue, the success of the first film, and the fact that the MCU is in a bit of a slump right now, the importance of this film just grew and grew for a lot of people.
Walking out of the theater last night I couldn’t help but feel a little conflicted. On one hand, the film was about exactly as good as I thought it would be. Wakanda is back and the world building director Ryan Coogler and his team brought to the original was in full swing. However, and maybe this is an unfair judgement, I was disappointed that it only met my expectations.
The biggest difference between this film and its predecessor I feel ultimately comes down to one thing: fun. This film was so drastically different in tone, large in part due to Boseman’s passing and looming presence, that it fails to capture what made the first one so memorable. Case in point, Shuri (Letitia Wright) goes from a comedic relief supporting character to a front-and-center protagonist grieving the loss of her brother. Obviously the circumstances surrounding the production probably forced this storyline, but it still feels a little out of place. In fact, I can remember only one moment when there was audible laughter in the packed theater I was in. Again, it’s hard to knock anyone in particular for this, it’s just different.
As for the story itself, one year after T’Challa’s passing Ramonda (Angela Bassett) has taken the throne as Queen of Wakanda. Vibranium is still a sore subject for the rest of the world as Wakanda continues its refusal to allow any outsiders to receive access to the valuable mineral. When a U.S. ship attempting to mine vibranium from the bottom of the ocean is attacked, diplomats assume Wakanda was involved but little do they know it was people of Talokan, an unknown underwater kingdom with its own source of vibranium that has existed in secrecy for hundreds of years, similar to Wakanda. After this incident, Namor (Tenoch Huerta), the leader of the Talokan, confronts Shuri and Ramonda and tells them they need to deliver him the scientist that was responsible for building a vibranium detection device that almost exposed their kingdom. This leads Shuri and Okoye (Danai Gurira) to head to America to track down Riri Williams (Dominique Thorne), a college prodigy likely being fit to be the Iron Man for the next generation. Before they can escape with Riri, her and Shuri are taken by the Talokan after Okoye fails to protect them against their seemingly indestructible soldiers. This kicks off a series of events that pits Wakanda and the Talokan against one another, even though both sides want to work with one another for different reasons.
And that’s just the first two acts of the film. As you can probably tell there’s a lot going on and I feel like there’s a few too many storylines to make the film run smoothly. The lack of Boseman allows other supporting characters to take on a bigger role, particularly Shuri, Okoye, and Ramonda, as well as Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o), M’Baku (Winston Duke), Everett Ross (Martin Freeman), the introduction of Riri and (minor spoiler) the return of Valentina Allegra de Fontaine (Julia Louis-Dreyfus). My personal favorite scenes were those involving Namor, Huerta is so so good in this, and seeing the world of the Talokan. I wish we were able to spend more time here as the logistics of their society are never fully explained but this is really the only area I wish we had more of. Riri’s storyline feels a little forced as the film is clearly just setting her up for future projects even if she doesn’t necessarily fit into this one. I also would have loved more of Nakia and M’Baku but I digress.
A lot of the buzz for this film has surrounded around Angela Bassett as a possible front-runner for Best Supporting Actress at the Academy Awards. The original Black Panther broke the mold as the first superhero film to be nominated for Best Picture, winning four in the process, and most of the hype around Bassett emerged after the first trailer dropped. She is great in this, and I’d have no problems with her snagging a nomination, but if any actor deserves accolades here it’s Huerta. Wright is solid as well but I just feel the leap of her character going from comedic relief to being front and center struggling with grief was a tough transition. I also fully expect the film to rack up nominations in Costume Design, Makeup and Hairstyling, Original Score, Production Design (it won Oscars in these four categories last time), as well as Best Original Song for Rhianna’s “Lift Me Up” for Best Original Song. I don’t think this should be in the Best Picture race, especially since Avatar: The Way of Water will likely garner more attention as the token ‘effects driven sci-fi/fantasy film that will win the most awards but not win Best Picture’.
Overall it’s a worthy sequel for one of the MCU’s best properties. It’s long and there’s a lot going on but most MCU fans should enjoy seeing some of our favorite characters receiving more screen time. Props to Ryan Coogler for making the best of a bad situation though this certainly won’t go down as the instant classic that Black Panther did.
Now let’s get to some spoilers.
SPOILER ALERT FOR BLACK PANTHER: WAKANDA FOREVER
So obviously there’s a lot to go through here but let’s start with the top:
- Perhaps the least surprising surprise of the film was Shuri taking over the moniker of Black Panther. In all the promotional materials we knew that someone would take up the suit but as far as I know it was never explicitly clear that it would be Shuri. It wouldn’t have been crazy to see someone like Nakia take it up, especially since she was more of a fighter than Shuri was in previous films, but I’m still not surprised.
- There was a moment there when I thought Okoye would actually become the Black Panther. After Ramonda removed her from the Dora Milaje for failing to protect Shuri it felt like it made sense for her to need redemption and somehow find a way to defend Wakanda but it probably makes more sense to just do it the way it played out. Eventually she returns as the Midnight Angel but shat storyline fell flat to me.
- I loved what they did with Ramonda’s arc but I hate the way she died. To me, Riri was the most out of place character in this film and to have Ramonda die saving her felt like a waste. I’m sure we’ll be seeing a lot more of her in the MCU moving forward but it felt like a very forced character that production jammed in there.
- Val is one of the most intriguing characters in the MCU at the moment. We’ve seen her in Falcon and the Winter Soldier and Black Widow but what exactly is she up to? We know she’s probably got something to do with the recently announced Thunderbolts film, serving as an anti-hero Nick Fury, but I would have loved to have seen more of her here. It also feels like a waste the we didn’t get to see her and Riri in some kind of a post credits scene.
- Bringing back Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) surprised me way more than it should have but it was still great to see him. Jordan’s performance was on the of best villains in the MCU to date so to have Shuri see him in the ancestral plane trying to poison her mind and feed her rage was a very cool moment. Hopefully we can put those rumors to bed about Killmonger being back in the MCU.
- The final fight scene between Shuri and Namor was very well executed but was also extremely predictable. There was absolutely no chance they were going to kill off Shuri that way but it felt pretty cheap to show us that that she can survive in the suit even when a vibranium spear goes THROUGH her.
- I love where they left off the Talokan storyline. Now we know about their existence but the rest of the world does not. Namor seems content to accept Wakanda’s truce only to eventually use them in some way against the surface world one day. I’m sure he’ll be back, he even called himself a mutant and we know the X-Men are coming but I would love to see Huerta get another chance to shine.
- The mid-credit scene. I get it but boy howdy was that not necessary. Nakia reveals to Shuri that she has a son named Toussaint. When we see him it’s obvious that that is T’Challa’s son. Shuri goes through a laundry list of questions and emotions, including the fact that Ramonda knew about him, and we learn that his Wakandan name is T’Challa which Shuri seems shocked by. I mean…who else would he have been? I understand that this moment was bring to be a moment to show the T’Challa’s legacy will live on but it was such a forced way of doing it. So who is in charge of Wakanda? IS Shuri the queen? Will M’Baku challenge for the throne like we’ve seen him do before? Is T’Challa Jr. a legitimate heir? Who knows for now, but that scene was pretty cringey.
One last theater thought. In the row front of me there was a drunk guy who was talking throughout the back half of the movie. It wasn’t loud enough to be that disruptive but we definitely all heard him. I’ve never had to tell someone in a theater to shut up but now that I’m in my 30’s it’s only a matter of time for I flip out on some youths. I did have that inner monologue about whether or not telling him to shut up from where I was was MORE disruptive than if I just let it go. I’ve been in a theater before where someone from the back row will flip out at someone nowhere near them and it completely kills the vibe because now everyone in the theater is trying to either see who was yelling or what they were yelling at. So I wasn’t going to be that guy? But at what point does a hero need to emerge and say something? The weirdest part of the whole thing was that nobody did anything and then he left with five minutes left in the movie. If you’re gonna be a dickhead in a theater why would you sit through a two-and-a-half hour movie only to leave just before it ends? Fucking people, man. Anyway, go see Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.
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