WARNING-THIS TRAILER CONTAINS SPOILERS
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Ryan Coogler directs Marvel’s most somber film. The opening moments of Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is a funeral procession for T’Challa. The sense of loss weighs much heavier than in the first half of Endgame despite Thanos blipping half of the planet. Since Chadwick Boseman is a real man who lost his life to cancer, it’s only fitting that Wakanda Forever treats his character’s passing as an actual loss that doesn’t let up on the grief. When the funeral wraps up, the mourning doesn’t cease.
Without T’Challa’s leadership, Wakanda is in a fractured state. The world starves for its vibranium, hoping it will solve most of its problems. What the global bureaucrats can’t understand is the danger of owning such a powerful resource. Wakanda refuses to share its vibranium, fearing that its power will be abused, leading to cataclysmic consequences. Rather than understanding Wakanda’s viewpoint, the world’s leaders take it upon themselves to obtain the vibranium by force enacting a slight state of war with Wakanda. But it’s not only the U.S. and U.N that’s Wakanda’s problem.
Namor (Tenoch Huerta), the Feathered Serpent God, has resurfaced from the underworld with the hopes of conquering Wakanda and seizing all the vibranium for his people. Unlike Michael B Jordan’s Erik Killmonger, Namor’s sympathetic edge isn’t as strong. Namor is a villain of the week with a unique thematic twist tied to ownership. Namor wants to steal and pillage what’s not his despite feeling entitled to the Wakandan’s most valuable asset. Furthermore, the rest of the world wants to steal from the Wakandan’s. With the note of thievery, Ryan Coogler places a noticeable reflection on society’s racism. What anyone of color owns, others choose to seize as their property.
Hats off to Ryan Coogler and company for not bending to Marvel’s will, rooting their picture in cameos and reveals but rather focusing on character and story like they used to. Wakanda Forever has a profound social commentary that will likely fly over the children’s heads in the audience. But their parents will get it. Some of the more closed-minded moms, pops, grandmas, and grandpas might not care for Coogler’s viewpoints. Many people want perfectly safe entertainment that doesn’t make them think about societal issues. They’re welcome to see Black Adam if they prefer an easy viewing.
Whether it be Disney or Warner Bros, entertainment works best when it has something to say. They may not always take chances, but when Marvel does its work stands head and shoulders above the box office competition. A true sense of loss is felt from behind the scenes to the silver screen. Ryan Coogler paints an image of a nation in disarray. Without T’Challa’s guidance, Wakanda is lost.
The sequel to Black Panther is the middle act of a larger narrative. It’s the lowest point for our characters. The fallout from the Black Panther’s death spells grave consequences for the nation of Wakanda. It’s up to the Wakandans to not only pick themselves up from such a heavy loss but also protect themselves from the invaders who want to strip their land bare.
With a solid emotional opening, the middle act of Wakanda Forever meanders in typical Marvel fashion. The power-hungry antagonist is set up with a weepy backstory to flesh him out. As mentioned previously, Namor isn’t as dynamic as Killmonger was in the original. By most accounts, Namor (also known as Kukulkan) is a villain of the week who’s more of a plot device than a memorable antagonist.
Where Killmonger served as an understandable voice of outrage towards Wakanda’s hypocrisy, Namor is another ancient bad guy who wants total control. His motivation lacks the rich nuance Killmonger had, rendering him forgettable. With some awkward timing, the sub-mariner Atlantian race will inevitably draw comparisons to the Pandoran Na’vis from Avatar. The similarity to James Cameron’s material is mistakably distracting, taking away the “bad guys” emotional dynamics.
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever ends like most Marvel pictures, with a third-act CGI showdown. Unlike most climactic fights, a greater degree of humanity is placed within the final conflict. Wakanda Forever, after all, isn’t just a story about heroes trying to defend the world from existing threats. Instead, it’s a picture about facing responsibility. How do you rise to an occasion when all seems lost? Although Chadwick Boseman has been taken from us too soon, the supporting cast is given a spotlight they may otherwise not have had if under less tragic circumstances.
Wakanda Forever is Letitia Wright’s time to shine, and she does so marvelously. There’s pain and uncertainty in her performance that displays itself unapologetically on screen. Accompanying Ms. Wright is Angela Bassett’s Ramonda. Having to display strength amongst heavy opposition, Ramonda must be stern to support her people. Squaring off against congress, complete with the Westwing’s Richard Schiff playing his typical condescending politician, it’s up to Ramonda to stand firm in keeping the world safe from manipulating Wakanda’s vibranium. Bassett displays a stubbornness one would imagine someone in Ramonda’s position would feel. Imagine having the entire world telling you what you’re doing is wrong, yet in your heart, you know you’re doing the right thing, but nobody can understand due to their greedy selfishness. Angela Bassett magnificently plays a character who agrees to be the sacrificial lamb to a world that hasn’t learned its lesson in compassion after Thanos’ snap.
For consistency, I always attach a trailer to my review to provide any background to those curious about the film. But I implore you not to watch it as it gives away one of the film’s surprise reveals. Unlike the cameos with the likes of the Illuminati from Doctor Strange in The Multiverse of Madness, our big reveals aren’t cheap fan throw-aways. Instead, they serve the story by continuing Chadwick Boseman’s legacy without replacing it. Does this mean T’Challa is being recast? If you’ve been following Marvel’s comments on such matters, it’s evident no such actions will be pursued. At least for now. There’s room for a new Black Panther in the future, but now is the time to mourn, then pick up our pieces so we can move on.
Not since Spider-Man: No Way Home has Marvel hit such a cinematic high point. Black Panther: Wakanda Forever can be held up to Marvel’s top films thanks to its uncompromising complexity. It’s a testament to a studio believing in its director who’s willing to take chances that might polarize some of the audience.
By no means is Wakanda Forever a whiz-bang, joyous time at the theater. But it does contain its victories that might have you leaping from your chair in applause. Again, don’t watch the trailer if you don’t want the moment spoiled! Secondly, stick around for the mid-credit sequence. For it may leave you in shock or delight.
BPWF never feels shrewd in its sentiment towards Chadwick Boseman. It’s clear that everyone involved in this film deeply loved the man. They could honor him best by continuing his legacy without immediately placing the spotlight on a different actor. More films can follow Ryan Coogler’s lead, where popcorn entertainment can not only inspire but challenge its audience.