There has been an abundance of Marvel content throughout 2022 with varying degrees of success. Amongst these was the theatrical releases of Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (2022) and Thor Love and Thunder (2022), as well as the small screen debut of Moon Knight (2022), Ms. Marvel (2022) and She Hulk (2022). This is before we even include offshoots like Morbius (2022), which itself shares a tentative link with the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
No matter how successful each of these releases were, the most anticipated Marvel release is no doubt this month’s Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. This is for a number of reasons, but mostly this is to do with the untimely death of lead actor Chadwick Boseman. Not only was his death at the mere age of 43 tragic, it left the franchise in a state of disarray, with many wondering how it would be able to recover from such a loss.
Would the filmmakers decide to recast, or would another character step into the chasm that Boseman left? Ultimately, Marvel went with the second choice, with the mantle of the Black Panther being handed over to another.
Writer/Director Ryan Coogler didn’t instantly make it clear who would be taking over as the iconic hero, but any fans of the comic would have had a fair idea. Even so, no matter the approach Coogler would take with the sequel, there would be a melancholic vibe over the film, with Boseman’s ghost looming strongly over proceedings.
Make no mistake, the loss of Boseman is strongly felt throughout the entire film. It is admirable that Coogler has made his film as a tribute to his late colleague/friend, however it doesn’t exactly make for a satisfying cinema experience. While others reviewers online have stated how much they have enjoyed the film, I am clearly in the minority as I felt it was one of the most disappointing films yet to form part of the MCU, and one that seriously pales in comparison to its predecessor.
As the film begins, Wakanda is in a state of disarray with the unexpected death of their King T’challa (Chadwick Boseman). Left without its King and protector, Queen Ramonda (Angela Bassett) valiantly tries to keep Wakanda safe from intervening world powers, all of whom want to get their hands on their precious metal Vibranium. While some nations merely want a share of the Vibranium, there are others willing to take it by force, believing that Wakanda lies unprotected now that it doesn’t have a Black Panther.
While the loyal warriors of the Dora Milaje are able to keep Wakanda protected for the time being, Ramonda recognizes the need for a new Black Panther and urges her daughter Shuri (Letitia Wright) to try and recreate the heart shaped herb which grants the Black Panther their superhuman powers.
Shuri refuses, believing that the Black Panther is a relic, and isn’t needed in this modern age. She begins to change her way of thinking with the emergence of Namor (Tenoch Huerta), who gives her and her people an ultimatum. He believes Wakanda to be the cause of the surface world’s fascination with Vibranium and wants them to assist with finding a U.S. scientist who has built a Vibranium detection machine. If they don’t deliver him the scientist, he and his people will attack Wakanda.
Namor is one of the most powerful opponents Wakanda has ever faced, and it becomes clear that it is in need of the Black Panther more than ever. The main question is will Shuri be able to do what is right when the time comes?
As mentioned, Wakanda Forever works as a tribute to Boseman, with a good deal of the film focusing on the repercussions of his death, and how this leaves Wakanda in a precarious position. If Coogler and his fellow scriptwriters decided just to focus on this as the main plot of the film it may have worked better, but the amount of unnecessary subplots and shoehorned in characters that seriously drags the pace.
The 161 minute runtime doesn’t help matters, with it feeling excessive and unnecessary. This leads to parts of the film feeling disjointed, with the main focus of the film feeling slightly unclear. After the death of T’Challa, the film takes too long to build up any momentum, with it not even being initially clear who the lead character actually is. In fact, during the opening section of the film Angela Basset’s Ramonda appears to get the most focus, which at first didn’t seem an issue as she clearly gives the best performance.
It later becomes a problem when the focus shifts to Letitia Wright’s Shuri, who is technically the film’s lead, as she is unable to match up to the talents of Basset, or even some of her more accomplished co-stars. It isn’t that she is a poor actor per se, as she wasn’t initially cast to be the lead of the film, with her being put in the unenviable position of taking over from an actor who has since become iconic. Even so, for a good portion of the film she comes across as unlikeable, with her character feeling very different from the wide eyed teenager from the first film. Partly this is to do with the writing, where it seems the writer’s default emotion for dealing with grief is to act an arsehole.
Considering she is the new Black Panther, very little of her screen time actually has her in the suit, with her only taking on the mantle in the last third of the film. Before that we have to deal with over 2 hours of her and the rest of the characters being either solemn or angry. Where Thor Love and Thunder faced complaints over its overuse of humor, Wakanda Forever does the complete opposite. Other than some one liners, the film is overly serious. While I wasn’t expecting a laugh riot, some humor wouldn’t have gone amiss.
The introduction and reintroduction of certain characters only seem to be included to pad out the runtime rather than them serving any importance to the plot. The most obvious is the inclusion of Martin Freeman’s Everett Ross and Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ Valentina Allegra de Fontaine whose scenes add very little, seemingly their inclusion is only there to remind people their part of the MCU. Honestly, other than some expository dialogue, they are surplus to requirements. Most of their scenes could have been removed with little change to the finished film.
The same could be levied at Dominique Thorne, albeit to a lesser extent. Thorne makes her first appearance as Riri Williams/Ironheart but essentially feels more like a plot point than a well rounded character. With Marvel already having an Ironheart series in the pipeline I did think she would have a better introduction. Hopefully that will be built upon in her own show as we don’t get much on her here other than how brilliant she is.
A more important inclusion is Tenoch Huerta’s Namor. A new addition to the MCU, the appearance of Namor has been hotly anticipated for years amongst comic book fans. His transition to the screen has resulted in some changes, with his origins being changed. No longer is Namor from Atlantis, rather he is from the underwater civilization of Talokan where he operates as their ruler. Similarly to his comic book counterpart, Namor is very much an anti hero, with him willing to do anything in order to protect Talokan/Atlantis. Like in the comics, he can be very much an asshole but has clear reasons for being so.
Some may be disappointed with the change of his origin story, but I actually liked this addition, with his history harking back to Mayan culture adding an interesting flavour to the character. Strangely, Huerta is given an “introducing” credit which was surprising considering he has over 60 acting credits on his IMDB page. Either way, Huerta does well in the role even if he is somewhat miscast. Another obstacle he has to overcome is how schizophrenic the script makes him seem, with him at times being compassionate to only descend into a crazed killer in the next scene.
When first introduced Namor speaks of his wish to keep Talokan secret from the surface world. Perhaps killing a ship full of Navy Seals, attempting a kidnapping on U.S. soil that results in the murder of countless Police Officers before going on to stage an attack on Wakanda which is meant to be one of the worlds most powerful nations, isn’t the best way to go about it. Honestly, he could have put an advert on the TV promoting Talokan and got less attention. Perhaps I am just nitpicking, or I missed something in the translation, but these were pretty big plot holes for me to look past.
Of the other cast members, Winston Duke as M’Baku isn’t given nearly enough screen time but is terrific whenever he shows up, showing once again to be a true scene stealer.. Hopefully he will be better utilized as the MCU moves forward. Another scene stealer is Danai Gurira as Okoye, who proves to be a complete badass, so much so I would rather she became the new Black Panther rather than Wright, even if it meant not sticking to canon. She certainly gets the film’s best action scene, with her bridge-based battle between her and a team of Namor’s warriors allowing her to show off her fighting skills.
In regards to the action, there’s not as much as I was expecting considering the run time. The majority of the action is good but not great. It doesn’t help that a good deal of the action is either poorly lit or shot, obscuring much of what can be seen. Thankfully the attack on Wakanda is clearer, with the audience getting a chance to see the full power of Namor. Even so, with what should be the main action set piece of the film, I felt that it was short lived and didn’t have the epic feel of similar MCU productions, although it does ultimately lead to some serious repercussions moving forward.
The handling of the action surprised me, as the previous Black Panther had some terrific action scenes that were on par with some of the best MCU offerings. With its sequel, I would say it has some of the most underwhelming action scenes of the MCU. In some instances it’s more to do with how they are edited together.
The final battle is a perfect example of this, with the filmmakers choosing to cut between three different fights which underplays their impact and dilutes any excitement generated. We have Shuri facing off against Namor, Riri Williams battling in the air and the rest of the Wakandan’s fighting Namor’s warriors. The action is capably staged during this, but the constant cutting between fights just becomes an annoyance.
One advantage the film has is an awesome score from composer Ludwig Göransson, who similarly composed the score for the first film. He has composed the scores for all of Coogler’s features and this is definitely one of his best.
Obviously many will disagree with my views here, and that’s fine. I’m glad people are able to enjoy the film. Perhaps I was just expecting too much. In the same week as my viewing of Wakanda Forever I watched DC’s Black Adam (2022), which I viewed with no expectations and ended up enjoying more than expected. Maybe if I had the same feelings towards this I would have enjoyed it more, but ultimately the film left me cold which I wasn’t expecting considering the subject matter.
No matter my feelings on the film, Wakanda Forever is still an important film within the MCU, as many plot elements will feature in ensuing films. It will be interesting to see how Black Panther and Namor feature moving forward.
Plot: 2/5 Acting: 3/5 Action: 2/5 Overall: 2.3/5