Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (PG-13)
31/12/22 20:03 Filed in: 2022
Directed by: Ryan Coogler
Starring: Letitia Wright
Warning! This is NOT a movie review. This is a critique of the film. Intended to initiate a dialogue, the following analysis explores various aspects of the film and may contain spoilers. For concerns over objectionable content, please first refer to one of the many parental movie guide websites. Ratings are based on a four star system. Happy reading!
The sequel to Black Panther (2018) opens with T’Challa’s (Chadwick Boseman, a fine actor who left us far too soon) funeral. Though appropriately somber, the sequence is beautifully filmed.
Sadly, the melancholic opener permeates the entire film. Much of the movie is bleak and dark—director Ryan Coogler carried the theme of mourning too far by shooting most of the first hour at night. These scenes include an assault on a deep sea drill platform, a showdown on a city bridge and Shuri (Letitia Wright) and Ramonda’s (Angela Bassett) first encounter with Namor (Tenoch Huerta).
For those unfamiliar with that name, Namor (aka The Sub-Mariner) is to Marvel what Aquaman is to DC. One twist with the Marvel character is that he can achieve flight with the assistance of tiny flapping wings on his ankles…why not? A curious decision by the studio was to make Namor of South American descent (a decision based on diversity?). Another unexpected twist is when Namor reveals his true identity as a Mayan god.
Many of the movie’s scenes take place in Namor’s underwater kingdom or in/around water. Is there a theme here, or just a plot device to keep the audience feeling the pressure and gasping for air (psychologically)? One wonders if the extensive water scenes were a conscious decision to contrast the action here with the largely landlocked original film.
One also wonders if the epic battle at the end of the film is symbolic. Namor’s soldiers of South American descent and Wakanda’s warriors of African ancestry battle it out with nary a Caucasian in sight—Everett Ross (Martin Freeman), the token white guy, has a few scenes in the movie but nothing substantial. Though white people, typically vilified as warmonger colonizers, aren’t directly involved in the conflict, some of them are the instigators of the massive melee; they’re mining a recently-discovered vein of vibranium, the mineral that allows Wakanda to remain a hidden, technologically-advanced society.
It never dawns on Namor’s brackish brawlers or Wakanda’s fierce fighters that they should join forces against their true enemy…the American government, which seeks to exploit vibranium for its own nefarious purposes. Namor and Shuri finally come to an agreement, but only after thousands have died; the resolution itself is so obvious, any simpleton could’ve come up with it at least an hour earlier in the story.
Shuri’s character arc is similar to T’Challa’s in the first film—a journey of loss and self-discovery that eventually leads to the fateful decision to accept the mantle of Black Panther. These character moments help to ground a film that lists on the ocean of story possibilities, casting about until it settles on the clichéd climactic conflagration. In the end, I’m really not sure what message the film seeks to impart or what it accomplishes, other than to anoint another eponymous hero to fight evil and defend Wakanda…in yet another sequel.
Marvel’s end credits bonus scenes are typically “Ah ha!” moments for comic book junkies; revealing some object, character or story point to tease a future film. In Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, the coda is a really good character scene (perhaps the best in the film) that features some real emotions and answers a nagging question posed earlier in the story.
This Hallmark moment is a radical departure from the standard tag scenes and is a welcome change for anyone like me, who long ago succumbed to Marvel Fatigue.
Rating: 2 out of 4