November 11, 2022

“Wakanda Forever” is a Fitting Tribute to our Black Panther (Review)

Reviewing Marvel movies has always been an exercise in vagueness, but the marketing for Black Panther: Wakanda Forever has been so frustratingly obscure that to discuss any story in-depth would be considered delving into the realm of spoilers. And since we know how much people on the internet hate even the slightest bit of unwelcome information about a movie of this scale, I’m going to have to dance around a lot of specifics. For that, I apologize, but if you’re reading this, I’m sure you’re at least slightly interested in seeing this movie. My recommendation is to pull the trigger. What’s the worst that can happen?

Image courtesy of Marvel

It’s an undisputed fact that the untimely death of Chadwick Boseman, the Black Panther himself, irreversibly changed both this movie and more likely than not the Marvel Cinematic Universe as a whole. It stands to reason that
Wakanda Forever would be a tribute to Boseman, honoring his legacy while contextualizing the loss and what it means for the characters we’ve come to know and love.

While the film does serve as a fitting testimonial to Boseman’s impact, the loss feels more like a bookend than it does an anchor for a story that could have been a thoughtful meditation on losing a loved one, and what comes next. But Wakanda Forever glides over that and introduces some compelling factors that end up being nothing more than that, just tools that surface thematically without a satisfying payoff. It feels like Marvel Studios-sponsored therapy, if your therapist put on an action movie in the middle of your three-hour session.

This would have been more of a widely-accepted statement a few years ago, but Marvel movies are usually the cream of the crop; they have higher budgets and oftentimes attempt more complexity than your average studio film, and if they are holding themselves to a certain standard, I will judge them on a different scale than I would most films. One could argue said Marvel standard has taken a nosedive since Avengers: Endgame (especially with the influx of countless Disney+ series), but I think there’s still a lot to love and respect about what Marvel is trying to do. They just may be doing too much, and Wakanda Forever is proof of that. Usually, with movies that are nearly three hours long, there’s too much content jammed into it and it feels overstuffed. Oddly enough, Wakanda Forever fails to justify its runtime in a completely different way; there’s not enough story to fill it up, and everything feels much more drawn-out than it should.

This isn’t to say that there’s not a lot going on — it’s a Marvel movie, that’s a given. But for the Phase Four concluder expected to tie up some pretty major threads while introducing some new ones, it’s surprisingly lacking.

I actually really love the moves that Wakanda Forever makes in expanding our view of the “real world” in the MCU. We don’t often see bureaucracy at work (the superheroes, after all, are far more interesting), but Marvel has a way of making foreign policy politics legitimately interesting because these are conversations that massive world powers would be having in a world full of super-powered beings that could take over the planet if they wanted to. Captain America: Civil War touched on it briefly with the Sokovia Accords, but there’s a lot of untapped potential there that I hope is at some point explored in more detail.

Image courtesy of Marvel

When an actor gets the coveted “Introducing” credit in a movie, it’s often a toss-up as to whether it will prove to be noteworthy once their career flourishes. With
Wakanda Forever, that credit belongs to Tenoch Huerta Mejía, who stars as Namor, the king of underwater civilization Talokan. I’d hesitate to label him the villain of the movie, even though he fills the antagonistic role. Huerta imbues Namor with a sympathy unbecoming of most Marvel characters in general, and the film is at its most active when he’s on-screen. It makes sense that he’s a decently well-rounded character; Black Panther villains always seem to be the ones with legitimate grievances. Perhaps that’s because these movies, more than most other Marvel flicks, are tied into real-world issues and actually have something to say.

The other notable introduction in Wakanda Forever is Dominique Thorne as Riri Williams (aka Ironheart), the last of the Young Avengers to be introduced to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Thorne is a dynamic presence, and even though I know she’s only in this movie to get us excited for her Disney+ series, Riri Williams was certainly a highlight. I’m glad we get to see her in action before we learn every single detail about her upbringing and what she has to prove, just as these Disney+ series have been wont to do with its young protagonists.

I wish I had more positive things to say about Wakanda Forever, especially considering that its predecessor is one of the best films that Marvel has to offer. I will give it credit for at least trying to stray from the Marvel formula, even if it isn’t entirely successful by the end of the film. I have massive respect for the fact that it was even made under such unfortunate extenuating circumstances, and find myself disappointed that I wasn’t able to love it as much as I wanted to.

Image courtesy of Marvel

Point being, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever had a lot of heavy lifting to do. It’s far from perfect, but it does what it set out to do and honors a legend gone too soon. I just wish it didn’t come as the conclusion to the messiest phase in MCU history, not fully redeeming the chaos that came before it while not really being interested in looking towards the future.

At least there is a future. There is a new Black Panther (shhh…spoilers!), and there is hope on the horizon. Wakanda Forever was a necessary step along the way, if only to provide an extended acknowledgment of the grief we all feel.

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is in theaters now.

1 comment:

  1. You summed it up so well Rowan - I was slightly dissatisfied and couldn’t really pinpoint it but you did!