Photo: ‘Black Panther: Wakanda Forever’
The first ‘Black Panther’ film, released in 2018, was a cultural tidal wave in terms of representation in comic book blockbusters. The film itself was just okay (I personally don’t think it addressed systemic racism as astutely as it thinks it did), though it does hold the honor of being the first comic book film ever to snag a Best Picture nomination at the Academy Awards. It did also cross the billion-dollar mark, so of course, a sequel would be on the way. But then, on August 28th, 2020, the world received a massive gut punch with news of the sudden passing of King T’Challa, Chadwick Boseman. Boseman’s battle with colon cancer was kept a secret from the media until his death. As the grief began to settle in, many soon began to wonder whether Marvel would recast the role of T’Challa or move ahead without the character entirely. Eventually, we learned Marvel was not looking to recast the role and would be altering the story for the sequel, giving us what we get in ‘Black Panther: Wakanda Forever’.
Thankfully, what we ended up getting was a pretty good film, the best the MCU has given us in quite some time. In fact, and maybe I’m on an island here, but I thought this film was better than the first. From the first act of the film, it is fantastic, the second act does drift, but the third act reels us back in. There are several standout performances worthy of awards consideration and exciting prospects for certain characters moving forward. It does have some of the signature Marvel-isms that we’ve grown accustomed to rolling our eyes at, but they do little to drag the film down. And yes, the film is a touching tribute to Chadwick Boseman’s legacy.
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A Marvel Film That Finally Lets The Actors Flex Their Muscles
What distinguishes this film from other Marvel films is that it takes its time to flesh out the consequences of certain events. Many were concerned about the film having a whopping two-hour and forty-five-minute runtime, however, that was more of a plus for the story, if anything. This isn’t a spoiler as it’s in the trailer, but Marvel decided to kill off the T’Challa character due to Boseman’s passing. How the film shows T’Challa’s family as well as the country of Wakanda handling T’Challa’s death is some of the most moving stuff we’ve ever seen in the MCU. The grief that this cast shares over losing Boseman is effortlessly conveyed on screen with the performances of Letitia Wright, Danai Gurira, and Angela Bassett. Bassett, in particular, is the standout in this film. She is an absolute force of nature who steals every scene she’s in. She takes a mother’s grief with a queen’s worry for her nation and conjures up a pretty moving performance.
What was also surprisingly enjoyable were the action sequences. Unlike everything we’ve seen from Marvel in recent years, the action in this film was surprisingly not boring. It did not feel like we were seeing the same handful of shots over and over again. In fast-paced action sequences, it kept the events fresh and interesting. In heavy dialogue-centric scenes, it took a methodical approach to showcase not only character decisions, but their reactions to them.
‘Black Panther: Wakanda Forever’ – It’s Still A Marvel Movie
As mentioned earlier, this film unfortunately does have many of the standard tropes and groaners which have become a custom of Marvel films. Director Ryan Coogler clearly tried to make a unique and meaningful film here, but he had to work within the confines of the Marvel box. To start off, while Dominique Thorne does all she can as Riri Williams (a.k.a Ironheart), her character gets bogged down by phony, unfunny, and tired sitcom humor that Marvel seems so content on forcing into their films. It’s astounding how they haven’t realized this yet, but when a character cracks a joke during what should be a life-or-death situation, it tells us as the audience that they’re not taking this situation seriously. So why should we? It was a shame because due to Thorne’s portrayal, this character seems like someone audiences would enjoy watching had she been written better. It’s also clear that Marvel wanted to introduce her in this film before her standalone ‘Ironheart’ series on Disney Plus. This is understandable as this character is relatively unknown to general audiences outside of comic book fandom. But hopefully, she’ll be done better justice in her own series than she was here.
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Another big topic of discussion going into this film was the official MCU debut of Namor, played by Tenoch Huerta. It seemed like a peculiar choice for Marvel to keep the wings on Namor’s feet in this film as it sounded a bit over the top, but that was probably the coolest thing about the character. The scenes of him skating across the sky, slashing ships with his spear are fun to watch. His role as the antagonist in this film is less so. It seems like Marvel’s process for creating villains is to give them a motivation that sounds understandable and then take them from zero to ten on the crazy scale, as was done with Killmonger in the first film. This formula for making villains may have worked a while ago and perhaps can still work if done properly, but it did not work here.
Without going into spoilers, Namor has one goal that he thinks will lead him toward a larger goal down the road, but all it does is make you think “Wow, this guy is not a very bright leader.” Granted, if Marvel wanted to use this in a future project down the line, portraying Namor as an impulsive paranoid leader, that might be a bit more compelling, but here it felt like they just didn’t put much thought into the character. While Namor’s debut was lackluster, Huerta embodies and understands this character very well and, similar to Ironheart, can give us something really special with the right script and a solid story.
A Worthy Tribute To Chadwick Boseman
At the end of the day, was ‘Black Panther: Wakanda Forever’ a decent film, and did it respectfully honor the legacy of Chadwick Boseman? I would say the answer to both those questions is “Yes”. It is certainly the best project of the MCU’s Phase 4 (though that isn’t saying much) and, at least in my opinion, a better film than the first. The music choices in the film are especially moving and there is a touching mid-credit scene that probably no one was expecting. You could say it teases something for the future, but more importantly, it offers some solace to losing T’Challa and, in some ways, keeps Boseman’s legacy alive.
Cast: Letitia Wright, Danai Gurira, Angela Bassett, Dominique Thorne, Tenoch Huerta, Dominique Thorne
Written by: Ryan Coogler, Joe Robert Cole
Directed by: Ryan Coogler
By Nader Chamas
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Nader Chamas is an aspiring television writer who seeks to fuse thought provoking progressive ideals into the films, shows, and stories that he loves. Having graduated from Loyola Marymount University with a degree in Screenwriting, Nader seeks to use his writing to advance causes that do not get enough attention or input across mainstream media. Like most, Nader has his own share of his favorite franchises and stories across pop culture. However, he seeks to contribute timely and relevant topics into these stories as well as in his own original material. This is why Nader’s analysis of popular films and tv shows matches The Hollywood Insider’s practice of discussing entertainment from a socially cognizant and critical perspective.