Friday, November 18, 2022

Green Phoenix - Black Panther: Wakanda Forever Review

Black Panther Wakanda Forever poster.jpg

This past year has seen a rather lackluster collection of films in theaters that have drawn my eye or attention. I think that this is largely the result of two-years of COVID placing a greater importance on streaming entertainment as well as the interruption to regularly scheduled film productions. So when I knew that we were expecting a second Black Panther, I was instantly excited.

Of course, that excitement turned to concern following the death of Chadwick Boseman. The death of a headline actor, the face of one of the superheroes, is something that the Marvel Cinematic Universe hasn't dealt with and how they handled it would have an enormous impact on the future of the franchise going into Phase Five and Six. Marvel made the difficult, but I think monumentally important, dicision to not recast T'Challa and instead focus the second Black Panther on exploring the passing of a superhero and how those who remain must learn to cope with the loss. It's a surprising fit for the rest of Phase Four, which I like to think of as the Post-Endgame phase or the Grief phase.

It is with that focus in mind that Black Panther: Wakanda Forever was released with huge expectations and a massive Sword of Damocles over its neck that would either push the rest of the universe into the trajectory necessary to make Phase Five a success or would make everyone question whether or not Boseman should've just been recast.

  • Directed by Ryan Coogler
  • Produced by Marvel Studios
  • Runtime: 161 Minutes
  • Rating: PG-13


Shortly after Avengers: Endgame, T'Challa, the king of Wakanda and the Black Panther, passes away due to an unknown disease, leaving his mother Queen Ramonda and sister Princess Shuri alone to fend off foreign powers that now believe Wakanda to be weak without their superpowered defender.
Desperate to obtain vibranium, the rare material responsible for Wakanda's wealth and techonological prowess, these various powers make an unexpected enemy of Talokan, an ancient Mesoamerican underwater civilization ruled by the god-king Namor. Blaming Wakanda's open-diplomacy for the threat to his nation's security, Namor seeks to gain either Wakanda's aid in defeating the surface world or defeat them before they become the only nation that can stand against him. All while targeting an innocent American girl whose genius threatens all Namor holds dear.
All while this political situation continues to spiral, Princess Shuri will have to come to terms with her brother's death and figure out what role the Black Panther may have in her future. The decision may not only save Wakanda, but Talokan as well.



Okay, so real quick, we don't really need to talk too much about visuals or music since these days the quality of the visual effects and music in a Marvel movie is top notch, as to be expected. Instead, I would like to discuss the design choices and comment on them. Wakanda, with its Afro-futuristic look is spectacular as always, with a great focus on balancing out the traditional African elements with Shuri's very Iron-Man looking laboratory settings. Of course beyond Wakanda, we now have the secondary civilization of Talokan, basically Marvel's version of Atlantis.
Based heavily on Mesoamerican culture, Talokan was quite the visual treat and exactly what this film needed to help distinguish it from other Marvel properties as well as play into the underlying themes of neocolonialism that underpin the entire Black Panther franchise. I was a little afraid that like most underwater scenes, Talokan would be far too dark to properly see anything and while I do think that most people may need to alter their screen brightness at home, in the theater this wasn't as much of a problem as I feared. And we do get a good chance to really understand Talokan's culture and people, which only makes the underlying conflict all the more tragic and heartbreaking.

This film is actually quite emotional and does a wonderful job in being a tribute to the late Chadwick Boseman as well as a fantastic exploration into the self-destructive nature of grief. The film really heavily focuses on Shuri, T'Challa's sister, for its emotional heart, though Queen Ramonda actually has the predominant presence throughout most of the first half. Angela Bassett is simply incredible as the Queen and I would not be surprised at all if her performance is either nominated or wins awards. The film is largely a character piece, focusing on Ramonda, Shuri, Namor, and Riri Williams.
Riri is by far the weakest character in the film. That's not to say that actress Dominique Thorne doesn't do a great job, its just that they don't really have much for her character to do other than act as a damsel in distress and tease her later role in the Ironheart Disney+ show. It just feels like her character ought to have more to do than just be a tease for future properties, especially with how much of a central role Riri plays into Namor's story and the conflict between Wakanda and Talokan.

A superhero film is only as good as its antagonist and Namor is a fine an antagonist as a film like this could get. He isn't a villain by any stretch of the imagination, in fact he sort of plays a role similar to what T'Challa played in Captain America: Civil War. An antagonist to the main characters objectives but ultimately sympathetic and you as the audience see his actions as extreme but perfectly logical from the viewpoint given. He isn't a nice guy, but he does show genuine kindness and charm that makes his future in the Marvel universe an interesting prospect, especially with the real villain of Phase Five finally revealed, if very subtly. I'm actually speaking of Valentina de Fontaine, whose shown up in smaller roles in several other Marvel projects in Phase Four and whose quickly established herself as antagonistic at best and outright villainous at worst. The fact that this film even dared to have the United States, even by proxy, be the villain is something that I wasn't completely prepared for.

This film is really quite good. The story isn't all the surprising, as it makes many of the moves that you expect this movie to make and the ending is fairly predictable, if leaving some issues and plot points unresolved (or waiting for some other property to fully complete). The final fight between Namor and [REDACTED] is spectacular to watch and quite cathartic after the trials we saw her go through to get where we are.

I did find the fight between Wakanda and Talokan a little difficult to explain at the beginning, but I understood it far better by the end, even if it is born out of a series of little cruelties that build on top of each other. All in all, the film works because it knows what it needed to focus on. And that is the emotional impact that the loss of a superhero has on the population.
Marvel has always treated death very seriously in its films and the choice to not replace Chadwick Boseman is, I think, ultimately one of the best decisions that they could've made. It could've easily blown up in their faces but instead it opened up a new direction for the Black Panther franchise that I am hungry to explore further.
  • 9/10
  • 9/10
  • 9/10
  • 8/10

 FINAL SCORE - 8.75/10

I would like to thank my monthly Patrons for their support of all of my content. You can join my Patreon for Behind-the-Scenes, Polls, and other fan interactions here.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Blog Archive