Black Panther: Wakanda Forever Review

Let’s talk about Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.

Chadwick Boseman was well on his way to being a true A-Lister. He was the star of Black Panther obviously which became a much bigger hit than anyone expected and thus proving to Hollywood black people can lead big budget movies, a legacy that will live on through the decades. With the amount of time he dedicated to Black Panther in the wider MCU, his other work was limited but he did show how good he was in films like 21 Bridges. And we also now know his other work was limited due to his illness, so who knows what he could have done. Because of his untimely death, the sequel to Black Panther is now not just aiming to be a great superhero movie, but also a tribute to a tragically passed away man. Can it balance these two seemingly very different things?

The nation of Wakanda is reeling after the death of King T’Challa. Alongside this, other nations are looking to find their own source of vibranium. This alerts the underwater nation of Talocan, and King Namor starts to threaten Wakanda in order to force them into an alliance against the rest of the world.

The film immediately tackles the death of T’Challa. After a brief early scene about the illness, we go right to his funeral which might as well be a funeral for Chadwick Boseman, especially as no one in the cast would have been able to go the actual service due to the pandemic. It’s beautifully done and is going to be a contender to the opening sequence of Up for quickest time to make the audience cry. And what’s great is that the movie uses that grief to power its characters, to drive them through the movie. The film uses that loss to give Wakanda a real weakness, one which will be taken advantage of later in the movie. Of course, the debate on whether the role of T’Challa should have been recast will continue. Since the shock of Chadwick Boseman’s death wore off, many are saying Marvel made the wrong decision. But whatever you think about that choice, this was the best way to go about the way they wanted to go.

Of course, this has to settle into being a more traditional superhero film eventually, though one without a clear superhero for the longest time. It does take it’s time to settle and it’s not helped by some really bad lighting. I feel like an old man complaining about this sort of thing but too many films decide to have this naturalistic lighting, which means ‘you can’t see a thing’ lighting. I really wish directors remember the words of Peter Jackson and that lighting comes from the same place as the music does. Seeing the action is better than realism in a movie where there’s underwater people and a flower which gives you superpowers. However when you can see the action, it’s great. The director Ryan Coogler has this way of making hand to hand combat look incredibly dynamic, going all the way back to when he was directing Creed. I just wish the lighting was better so we could see it early on.

Eventually, the film settles on Shuri as the lead character as she goes through grief for her brother while dealing with the threat from Namor. But while she’s likable enough, she does struggle with that transition to main character, especially with the tough storyline handed to her which dampens down her bubbly personality from the first. I’ll admit, the question marks remain on how good she’ll be going forward, especially when she’s outshined by most of her co-stars. For instance, she heads off to America with Okoye to try and find a scientist who made a machine that can find vibranium. And Okoye is a much livelier and interesting character. This is someone whose emotional level was limited in previous films to being a badass who is much funnier and better to be with than Shuri. That’s a bit of a concern, though there’s enough depth and things to like about Shuri in the lead role that she should be given a chance. Thor wasn’t great to begin with either, and he was meant to be in the lead role, whereas Shuri never was.

But the highlight is the villain. Namor is a legendary Marvel character who the MCU have not been able to touch yet because he’s been wrapped up in the Fantastic Four rights. In the comics, he is the King of Atlantis and has served as both the hero and the villain. Because of his similarity with another underwater superhero at DC, he has been changed about a bit for the film as they looked to alternate inspiration from the comic. They’ve pulled from Mexican mythology and have made Namor the King of Talocun, an underwater city that looks very Mayan. This is great visually of course, but it’s more Namor who steals the show. He is a superb villain in the mold of ‘slightly different methods and he’s the hero’, which is fitting for someone who flits between the two. It’s an incredibly powerful performance by Tenoch Huerta, a relative unknown before this movie. He shows himself to be one of the most fearsome villains with the invasion of Wakanda which is an exhilarating scene. I honestly can’t wait to see more of him.

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is not a perfect end to Phase 4. The lighting problems are a massive problem when so much of the film is in the dark and Shuri is an unconvincing lead character. But other than this, this is a great movie. Namor is one of the best villains that Marvel has done in a long time and is going to have a great future in this universe. The action scenes, when you can see them, are brilliant and the returning supporting cast from the first film remain as great as anther. This is also a wonderful tribute to Chadwick Boseman and he looms large over the entire film. This probably won’t end up having the same sort of cultural relevancy as the first, but it is still a great and more emotionally resonant superhero movie.

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A Guy Who Talks About Movies

Former Head of Movies for Screen Critics. Film Reviews now hosted on Medium.