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'Black Panther: Wakanda Forever' Review
Three Different Movies Fight Within
After actor Chadwick Boseman passed away, Director Ryan Coogler almost stepped away from directing. The pain was too raw to continue making movies, not only in the superhero mold but directing movies in general. Boseman’s death sent reverberations through the MCU, but also, through culture— Black Panther represented that not only could there be black superheroes, but they could be equal to and in most cases, more enthralling than the ones we already had. His absence was always going to make a sequel a difficult endeavor, but the hope was that Coogler could honor the late great actor and make a satisfying superhero adventure with Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. Those two tasks alone might’ve been too steep a challenge, but throw in a tiresome subplot that connects the story to the MCU, and Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is a movie split into three parts with widely different returns.
*Light spoilers for Black Panther: Wakanda Forever follow*
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The Death of Black Panther
Before the action extravaganza begins, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever smartly devotes some time to say goodbye to Boseman’s character. The cast is in funeral attire and it's obviously a very somber affair. At the center of this is the one who has lost the most throughout the Black Panther movies— Queen Ramonda (Angela Bassett). Not only has she recently lost her husband due to an assassination, but now also her son. It’s through her character that the movie most adequately conveys the ramifications of these great losses.
It was always going to be hard to find a new cipher for the audience to attach to without Boseman, but the movie attempts to give the supporting characters from the first movie a lot more to do here. Black Panther’s sister, Shuri (Letitia Wright), has obviously lost her father and brother as well. An inner conflict arises within her– even though she’s one of the most gifted engineers on the planet, she failed to find a way to save those she loves. If the first Black Panther was a story of Fathers and Sons then Wakanda Forever is definitely a story between Mothers and Daughters. Returning favorite like the head of the royal guard, Okoya (Danai Gurira), and Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o) have their own demons to face in the absence of the Black Panther.
A New Villain Appears
The late Black Panther promised the world that Wakanda would open its borders and share its technology. But with resources of that magnitude available, the world powers weren’t going to wait around for handouts. Wakanda can fight off some attempts at infiltration, but when the U.S. develops a tool that will help acquire Wakanda’s greatest resource Vibranium, an unknown civilization is uncovered during the search. A civilization that was meant to stay hidden. Deep within the ocean lies the city of Talokan, an advanced civilization that survives solely because it remains a secret.
In one of the film's most breathtaking sequences, Shuri is taken down to its depths and we can see its glory. Coogler and his team know how to make an impressive civilization because just like Wakanda, these locations are amazing. Large structures fill the sea, but even more than that, Talokan’s civilization is given plenty of details that make it feel real. Not to mention the costume design from Ruth E. Carter who previously won an Oscar for her work on the first Black Panther and continues to do outstanding work here. It’s something that I believe Coogler’s MCU movies do better than any other. Talokan’s people must live underwater in order to breathe, and they are guided by Namor (Tenoch Huerta Mejia). Namor acts as Talokan’s protector as he can live both on land and at sea while having incredible strength and the ability to fly. There have been a few mutants seen thus far in the MCU (Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness and Ms. Marvel), but Namor is the first mutant to be given significant time to shine in the theatrical MCU movies. His reasons for violence stem from the need to protect his people, even if it means war.
We’ve Got MCU Problems
The U.S. is able to find Vibranium due to the invention of a college student named Riri. Unbeknownst to Riri (Dominique Thorne) one of her projects has been stolen and repurposed. Now she’s in the crosshairs of Namor and the U.S. government.
Everett Ross (Martin Freeman), was the U.S. agent friendly with the former king of Wakanda. He was able to provide Wakanda with intel from the government and that gave Wakanda some protection from their enemies. Ross’s trouble comes from agent Valentina Fontaine (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), who has suspicions of his treasonous alliance. It’s this addition of MCU characters that Black Panther: Wakanda Forever really falters. Fontaine has apparently made some appearances in other MCU properties (most notably the TV series Falcon and the Winter Soldier), and she’s being set up as a significant MCU villain for later entries. The problem is that for audiences who aren’t tuned into her previous schemes, this subplot seems more nonsensical than Freeman’s appearance in Black Panther. It’s Disney’s way of rewarding audiences who’ve watched all their TV spinoffs thus far, but everyone else will likely find it tedious.
The strength of Black Panther: Wakanda Forever comes from the great ensemble of women that try their best to hold this together. Bassett, Wright, Gurira, and Nyong’o are all capable and compelling actors, but there’s obviously something missing here. Black Panther: Wakanda Forever cannot shake the ghost of Chadwick Boseman. For their part, Coogler and the cast don’t even try as they are consistently making callbacks to the late actor. Perhaps they felt like they just couldn’t do it without him. Regardless, I’d still say that this has been one of the stronger Marvel movies as of late (probably my favorite since Shang-Chi). The costumes, locations, and music all tie together to make Wakanda’s story a rewarding superhero story. If this is what a Coogler misfire looks like, then it's still more entertaining than many of the adventures in the Marvel Universe. [C+]
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