BLACK PANTHER: WAKANDA FOREVER (2022)
Starring Letitia Wright, Lupita Nyong'o, Danai Gurira, Winston Duke, Dominique Thorne, Florence Kasumba, Michaela Coel, Tenoch Huerta, Martin Freeman, Angela Bassett, Isaach de Bankolé, Dorothy Steel, Danny Sapani, Mabel Cadena, Alex Livinalli, María Mercedes Coroy, Kamaru Usman, Richard Schiff, Lake Bell, Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Michael B. Jordan.
Screenplay by Ryan Coogler & Joe Robert Cole.
Directed by Ryan Coogler.
Distributed by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures. 161 minutes. Rated PG-13.
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever has a nearly impossible task – to try to continue the saga of the 2018 blockbuster without the man who played the title character. After the tragic, unexpected 2020 cancer death of star Chadwick Boseman, how is it possible to keep the series fresh and fun and at the same time respectful of the original star’s legacy?
Honestly, it’s probably not possible, although creator Ryan Coogler jumps through hoops to pay tribute to Boseman and mourn his loss through the cinematic loss of his character. However, this profound sense of loss overpowers the original film’s sense of fun and makes this new film much more of a slog than the first Black Panther.
Truth is, it’s probably too soon just as an aesthetic choice to make Wakanda Forever. In a better world, the filmmakers and the audience would all have had more time to come to terms with the loss of Boseman. Also, creator Ryan Coogler had to completely jettison the original script for a planned Black Panther sequel with Boseman and rush to get a whole new story done in the short two years since the actor’s passing. (Wisely, they never even considered recasting the character of T’Challa/Black Panther.)
Sadly, the Marvel Cinematic Universe waits for no one and nothing, and Wakanda Forever has tendrils which reach out into other Marvel films and TV shows. (In fact, one of the more refreshing parts of the original Black Panther was that it felt like a bit of a stand-alone story. This film is more rooted in the MCU mythology.)
So here we are, back in Wakanda, right on schedule. But there’s something missing.
None of which is to say that Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is a bad film. It is not. It’s just not nearly as memorable or enjoyable as the first one.
Wakanda Forever opens by mirroring real life. T’Challa has suddenly died – not in battle but of an illness. They never specify it is cancer like the case of the actor, but it is not a difficult narrative leap to make. And much of the film is about his sister Shuri (Letitia Wright), his mother Queen Ramonda (Angela Bassett), his lover Nakia (Lupita Nyong'o) and the rest of the kingdom of Wakanda mourning his loss.
Of course, two hours and forty minutes of people in mourning won’t fly for even the most understanding of audiences, so of course danger intrudes from the outside world. Like the original film, it is based around vibranium – the natural resource which supplies Wakanda’s power and technology and has made the hidden little kingdom one of the most powerful countries in the world.
It turns out that vibranium has also been found at the ocean’s floor and has led to the creation of another secret society – an underwater city called Talokan. Talokan is led by Namor (Tenoch Huerta), a man who can live and breathe underwater and has wings on his feet so he can fly.
He and his people want to declare war on the world (sort of as a preemptive strike against them finding his secret city, it seems…) and he thinks that Wakanda – which also has vibranium and also is hidden from the rest of the world – would make a natural ally. Shuri, who has taken over leadership from her brother does not agree.
This leads to a bunch of over-the-top fights between the Wakandans and the Talokans, all of which you have seen before in MCU films. (Specifically, fights in the fields of Wakanda have already been major parts of Black Panther and Avengers: Infinity War.)
The anger and aggressiveness of Namor makes little sense, although I suppose he is supposed to be just inherently evil. All the while the Wakandans have to protect a brilliant American scientist named Riri Williams (Dominique Thorne) who will be the lead character in the upcoming Disney+ series Ironheart, and deal with the unexpected death of another important Wakandan character.
All the while, the memory of Chadwick Boseman, who is shown several times in flashbacks, hovers over the whole enterprise like a pall. MCU films often have a tendency to stare into the face of tragedy, but this is undoubtedly the first time that the tragedy they are portraying is real.
Sadly, that very realness makes Black Panther: Wakanda Forever somewhat difficult to watch. The pulp immediacy of the story is overburdened by the sheer weight of its reality.
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2022 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: November 11, 2022.