Friday, August 5, 2022

Green Phoenix - Trailer Talk: Black Panther: Wakanda Forever Teaser

In the last few weeks of July, we were all blessed to see San Diego Comic-Con return after a three year hiatus, now that the life-altering shitstorm that was COVID-19 is now a more normalized and managed part of our daily lives (even if it isn't gone completely). And with Comic-Con's return, we were all graced with what is absolutely my favorite part of convention season, the release of new trailers and teasers for movies and TV shows.

A good trailer can make or break a film's release. Some trailers are so designed that they kill all excitement for a film like with Megamind's trailer which spoiled every twist in the film. On the case of trailers like the original Sonic the Hedgehog, the trailer can be so poorly received that it enables the creators to completely shift the film for the better. And yet, an amazing trailer can be almost as entertaining and revolutionary as the film itself. In some cases, the trailer is even better than the movie its set to promote.

Naturally, this talk of trailers got me thinking. Why don't I write editorials where I discuss trailers, either new releases or maybe even reminiscence about trailers of the past and see why they either do or do not work. Thus was born this new editorial series Trailer Talk.

As for the first trailer to be discussed in my new series, how about we turn back to this years San Diego Comic-Con and one of the most widely regarded trailers released that weekend.

The very first teaser for Marvel Studios' next film, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.

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This teaser, much like the film it advertises, had an enormous weight to carry on its shoulder. I do not believe it is an exaggeration to say that Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is the most highly anticipated film in the MCU's upcoming lineup, even with the announcement of Phases Five and Six.

The original Black Panther was a cultural touchstone that fundamentally shifted in many people's mind what a superhero movie could be, as well as turning Chadwick Boseman into a household name. Naturally any sequel was going to have to live up to audience expectations, now only more so with Boseman's tragic passing. Wakanda Forever has an enormous amount of pressure to be good and, quite frankly, if the actual film is one-tenth as good as this trailer, then we are all in for a treat.

Like most teasers, their aren't too many clues as to specific narrative beats; mostly focusing on giving audiences an emotional "feel" for the film in terms of tone and focus. They accomplish this by opening the song with a beautiful rendition of Bob Marley's "No Woman, No Cry", covered by Nigerian singer Tems, which then transitions into a powerful mix of Kendrick Lamar's song "Alright". Not only does this film do a wonderful job of conveying the emotionality of the film, which will likely be one of the saddest films in the MCU, but it also stands as a beautiful tribute to Chadwick Boseman.

"No Woman, No Cry" is a beautiful song of mourning and by overlaying it with images of a Wakandan funeral and our main protagonists crying and Namor being born, we are reminded of Boseman's passing and that he will not be returning as the Black Panther. That the Panther is gone and this film will instead focus on the world he leaves behind. No your opinions as to whether or not T'Challa should've been recast is a discussion for another time and not particularly relevant to this discussion. But the death of T'Challa does create an opportunity to explore the nature of Wakanda and how this formerly isolated country handles a world without its hero and king. The seemless transition into Kendrick Lamar's "Alright", an anthem of unity with deep connections to the Black community (especially the Black Lives Matter movement) promises us as the audience that, even with T'Challa's (and Boseman's) passing, everything will still be alright because their are people who remain to defend what he stood for.

This movie will be a film not about the Black Panther in so much as there will be a character running around in a Black Panther costume (though that will likely occur at the end of the film), but rather about what the idea of the Panther meant to their people and how those people rise to fill the hole he left behind. It's a powerful theme and one that I am excited to see put to the big screen because we have seen heroes try to fill in for fallen heroes, but I don't think we've ever witnessed a nation go through mourning and the political fallout of T'Challa's death being put on screen.

Visually, we see Queen Ramonda giving a powerful eulogy and declaration filled with equal parts pain and strength. We see conflict brewing between Wakanda and Atlantis, led by the enigmatic and deeply frightening Namor, and we see images of what look like American soldiers attacking Wakandan facilities, making me wonder how much this film might be a commentary of neocolonialism and how much international relations and the United States is likely to play in the film. Speaking of the Atlanteans, I couldn't help but draw more than a few visual connections to the upcoming Avatar: The Way of Water with seeing these warriors riding whales and rising from the water. It's powerful imagery and works great for making the thoroughly anti-heroic Namor into a very dangerous threat, though I also wonder how much of the "conflict" between Wakanda and Atlantis is ultimately artificial and constructed by other third parties. That being said, the Avatar asthetic is definately difficult to ignore.
 
Additionally, I do think that making the Atlanteans Mesoamerican-inspired is fantastic and really gives them a feel that I've never really seen portrayed on screen, especially a superhero film. So long as it doesn't come off as reductive or pandering, it should be alright. Director Ryan Coogler seems good at that so I'm not quite worried about that. Just aware of the possibility.

Outside of Namor and our main characters from the previous installment, we also have references to the rise of Ironheart, who I have strong feelings will play a major role in the MCU going forward, especially if MatPat is right and the films are leading to a Young Avengers team. Actually it was this trailer that finally made me realize what Phase Four's focus was the entire time.
 
I've mentioned in past reviews of Phase Four films that I was at a loss as to the direction that Phase Four was taking us, but it makes sense. Phase Four was all about moving on from tragedy and growing from the fallout of life-changing circumstances. Both Spider-Man films post-Endgame were about growing beyond our heroes and forging our own identities. Doctor Strange was about living in the moment and not in dreams and reality, learning to live with missed opportunities and growing from the experiences. The Disney+ shows were about growing to fill in the holes left by those we left behind or living with the grief.

And Black Panther: Wakanda Forever will end this extended post-Endgame epilogue Phase by showing us regular people rising to fill the shoes of fallen heroes, and as we will see with Ironheart and whoever becomes the next Black Panther, rise to become heroes in their own right. Just in time for Phase Five to really throw the multiverse and an unstable MCU into the mix,

In just two damn minutes, this teaser (not even a full trailer) made me more excited for this film than anything else. It gave me chills and acts both as an exhilarating hype machine for the next MCU film, but as a powerful tribute to a cultural icon who was taken from us far too soon. This film was always going to be an emotional roller coaster, but this trailer gave me fucking goosebumps man, and I just keep coming back for more.

I have littler doubt that this teaser will be written about in books as how to do a film teaser right. I really do hope the film is as good as this teaser makes it seem, because it will ultimately make the teaser's legacy even greater. I think that's the sign of the best kind of teaser or trailer. When you enjoy watching the trailer as much as the movie, you've got something of legend on your hands.

And the first teaser for Black Panther: Wakanda Forever was exactly that - legendary.

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