Movie review: “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” (2022)

“Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” (2022)

Action

Running Time: 161 minutes

Written by: Ryan Coogler and Joe Robert Cole

Directed by: Ryan Coogler

Featuring: Letitia Wright, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Winston Duke, Florence Kasumba, Dominique Thorne, Michaela Coel, Tenoch Huerta, Martin Freeman, Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Angela Bassett

[the Sub-Mariner appears]

Ramonda: “Stop right there! Who are you? And how did you get in here?”

Namor: [looks around] “This place is amazing. The air is pristine, and the water… My mother told me stories about a place like this, a protected land with people who never have to leave, who never have to change who they were. What reason do you have to reveal your secret to the world?”

Ramonda: “I am not in the habit of repeating myself! Who are you?”

Namor: “My people call me K’uk’ulkan. But my enemies call me Namor.”

Released recently in cinemas “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” (2022) is the long awaited sequel to the Best Picture nominee “Black Panther” (2017) that was not only a global blockbuster but a critical darling. Now it is important to say up front that this new sequel is definitely not as good as its predecessor for a number of reasons which I will explain but because I will not offer any spoilers I will restrict this review to what has appeared in the trailers only with hints being given to everything else that happens in this movie which is saying something as it is a very long movie, and believe me you will notice it.

Obviously the most obvious element of the movie is the fact that the star of the first instalment, Chadwick Boseman, died of cancer in 2020 which left not only Disney without a major star but also offered a challenge to the filmmakers in terms of what to do with the character and how to replace him either by recasting or by some other narrative invention. The powers that be in all their wisdom decided, out of respect (which I really don’t understand) to not recast the role but retire the character of T’Challa completely thereby needing someone else to fill those particular boots.

So the basic story of “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” begins with T’Challa, the King of Wakanda, who is dying from an illness which his sister, Shuri, believes can be cured by the “heart-shaped herb”. Shuri attempts to synthetically recreate the herb after it was destroyed by their cousin N’Jadaka but fails to do so before T’Challa succumbs.One year later, Wakanda is under pressure from other nations to share their vibranium, with some parties attempting to steal it by force. Queen Ramonda implores Shuri to continue her research on the heart-shaped herb, hoping to create a new Black Panther that will defend Wakanda, but she refuses due to her belief that the Black Panther is a figure of the past. In the Atlantic Ocean, the CIA and U.S. Navy SEALs utilize a vibranium-detecting machine to locate a potential vibranium deposit underwater. The expedition is attacked and killed by a group of blue-skinned water-breathing superhumans led by Namor, with the CIA believing Wakanda to be responsible. Namor confronts Ramonda and Shuri, easily bypassing Wakanda’s advanced security. Blaming Wakanda for the vibranium race, he gives them an ultimatum: deliver him the scientist responsible for the vibranium-detecting machine, or he will attack Wakanda.

There are a few positives to take away from “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever”, firstly the performances of all the main characters are on point, for me the highlights were Winston Duke as M’Baka who for me is woefully underused, Lupita Nyong’o as Nakia who is sidelined and reintroduced in the most artificial way possible, Angela Bassett as the Queen of Wakanda and of course  Danai Gurira as Namor the new character to the MCU. Secondly, the general introduction and mythology of Namor is the high point in general of “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever”, while it does deviate from the comic mythos which the MCU does play with in terms of many of its cinematic heroes and villains, this one is the most different and also the best. I won’t get into point by point differences but the deviations are not only logical and fit in within the MCU, but give a direct opposite to the Wakanadian introduction and mythology. I particulate liked the fact that many of Namor’s physical attributes such as his winged ankles and pointed ears have been kept when it may have been easier to jettison those, he remains in the real world a very good representation of his comic book look. Not only that but many of his people in this movie are directly from the comic book universe, in particular Attuma who has his own story, it should be interesting to see how this is played out in future movies. Thirdly, the rise (possibly) of M’Baku the most original character as well as someone to keep an eye on, in fact when he is introduced in this movie chewing on a carrot it is difficult to take your eyes off him and you wish he was in every scene from then on.

There are however, some real negatives in this movie and they are not knew, and in fact these appear in many Marvel movies from the past and the first one is the sprawling narrative as well as an overly packed plot with too many characters that are almost all underserved or undermined. One of the main issues is the third act which involves a sea battle with all the main characters all fighting mostly faceless undersea warriors who feel disposable on a vessel that seems out of place on the water, juxtaposed with a smaller fight occurring inland. The stakes never once feel very real, in fact when this was all taking place I was hoping it would finish quickly. Of course if this movie is anyones it is Letitia Wright’s as the younger sibling Suri who is attempting to fill a lot of shoes as well as facing down her own need for some kind of revenge. For the most part her character arc is complete and he destiny seems set until the mid credit sequence which at once is possibly the most touching part of this movie, but also does something that I think is unforgivable in this day and age, it depowers her relationship with Wakanda and also seeks to undermine the person she has just become.

This is Disney/Marvel’s 30th entry into the MCU that has been ongoing for over ten years, so there is nothing wrong with audiences having hight expectations especially when the previous entry was nominated for Best Picture. However, “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” does suffer from a bloated plot, a messy narrative a big CGI battle at the end that serves none of the characters and seems tacked on to attempt to make the movie feel bigger than it actually is. There are two characters introduced within the narrative that for one, in Namor is served well, and is a highlight of the movie whilst the other, Riri is completely underserved and rushed, when the movie was finished I had trouble remembering her actual role at all.

There is no doubt that audiences will be clamouring for a Namor movie, but as has been revealed that will be forthcoming in any quick fashion as it turns out that Disney does own the rights to that particular character, he can only appear in others movies, which explains his arrival here in “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever”.

I would say that it is completely fine to wait for this on a streamer, or even on a 4K disc, apart from a few highlights this does not reach the lofty heights of the original “Black Panther”.

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