Black Panther: Wakanda Forever
How does one even attempt to follow up one of the most profound and culturally impactful superhero films of all time? The task that lay before director Ryan Coogler and his crew must have been a daunting one, and to even release a fully completed film like this is a truly impressive feat. I just wish I could say the same about the movie as a whole.
I have very mixed feelings on the finished product. On the one hand, it's a fond tribute and farewell to beloved actor Chadwick Boseman, as well as a continuation of his legacy as the iconic character of T'Challa, but on the other, this is more of a commercial for future Marvel projects, rather than a compelling narrative. First off, the scenes that were done well are full of fantastic performances and wonderful filmmaking artistry that will tug at the heart. The big themes in this movie are grief and the struggle of moving on from loss. As someone who was traumatized by the loss of a loved one, this story had an impact on me that most movies don't. Unlike most Marvel stories, this one dared to tackle a very real, heartbreaking subject matter, and I applaud the bravery of the filmmakers to take on such a task. Honestly, if the movie just stayed focused on that, it might have been Marvel's best film to date. Unfortunately, their focus was scattered. This story isn't just about grieving; it's also a bombardment of teases and promotions for upcoming shows and movies. Thunderbolts, Iron Heart, and Black Panther 3 were all set up here, and I would be absolutely surprised if Marvel didn't make a Namor movie after this. It’s a movie that feels unfocused, especially when it comes to some of the more spoilery stuff. It almost feels like they didn’t bother changing a lot of moments that they had planned before Boseman’s untimely death and merely swapped him out for Latitia Wright’s character Shuri. Shuri goes through a bit too much throughout the movie on top of her brother’s death, which is why I think the script wasn’t written with her in mind originally. Because the story doesn’t focus on Shuri’s struggle with losing her brother–though the scenes that do are done very well–it sort of feels a bit disappointing, because I really like Shuri and wanted the movie focused primarily on her. Instead, the story struggles to juggle so many items that some of them fall on the floor. Sometimes less is more, and I hope the next Black Panther movie takes this to heart.
A big criticism from the previous film was directed towards the special effects. I don’t think such a claim can be made here. It seems as though the special effects team took the criticism to heart, and, despite the absolutely ridiculousness that’s on display sometimes, this looks much more impressive than the 2018 phenomenon. When I heard that Namor was going to be in the movie, I thought for sure he would look silly; after all, he has elvish ears, green swim shorts, and wings on his ankles. He is the pinnacle of comic book crazy designs (and one of the oldest at that!). However, he and his fellow underwater kin look pretty cool surprisingly. That may be due to the fact that the filmmakers decided to change up the aesthetic of the characters for the movie. In the comics, they’re Atlanteans, but here, they come from a hidden underwater city from South America, with heavy doses of Native American inspirations. It’s a unique look that makes Namor and his people stand out from, say, another superhero movie about people that live in the ocean. Speaking of the ocean, there are some truly impressive shots underwater that allowed the special effects artists to flex their skills. Additionally, there are some truly beautiful shots that just dazzle the eyes. What this movie lacks in engaging storytelling it makes up for in its cinematography.
The acting is also a spectacle. I'm sure some of the emotional performances were coming from a real and raw place. This couldn't have been an easy job for the actors as they take their characters into uncertainties and hardships. Letitia gives a compelling performance of a grief-stricken Shuri, trying desperately to cling onto the sadness she feels so she never has to get over her brother's death. There are some moving scenes with her, and she nails it. Angela Bassett also did a fantastic job. She demanded the audience's attention with every line she spoke. Her delivery was filled with profound intensity and is almost Shakespearean. Essentially, she was epic and seemed to have poured her heart into it. Newcomer Tenoch Huerta did an admirable job as Namor the Submariner. This is a character that is as old as Marvel and undoubtedly proved challenging with a somewhat silly appearance and very cartoonish powers. However, he brought the intensity of the character to life in a very compelling manner, balancing the dark themes of the antihero with a subtle silliness that helps him not come across too seriously. After all, he is playing a fish man that can fly through the air. The actors throughout the movie did a great job overall, having moments to shine and let loose with emotional moments, but unfortunately, they aren't given a script that focuses on building upon the characters--it's more concerned with building the universe for another decade.
There is no way Black Panther: Wakanda Forever could live up to the reputation set by the first film. There were so many factors that made the predecessor so special, and the stars didn't quite align for the sequel. Despite the many flaws, I'm glad to see the characters again and witness them overcome real world issues. It's why I adore the Marvel universe; the characters feel real as they deal with relatable problems. As long as the storytellers remember this fundamental principal moving forward, the legacy of Black Panther will live on forever.
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