BLACK PANTHER: WAKANDA FOREVER
REVIEW: BLACK PANTHER: WAKANDA FOREVER
Release Date: 11h November 2022
Directed by: Ryan Coogler
Cast: Letitia Wright, Lupita Nyong'o, Danai Gurira, Winston Duke
Screenplay by: Ryan Coogler, Joe Robert Cole
Cinematography: Autumn Durald Arkapaw
Not only was the first Black Panther movie well received by both fans and critics alike, it was also hugely significant on a representational level. It should go without saying how important it is for children to see a hero once in a while that doesn’t look like Chris Evans or Robert Downey Jr. If you can see it, you can be it. So Black Panther deserves a bit of leeway.
As most will probably be aware, Chadwick Boseman sadly passed away in 2020. In the opening scenes of Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, his character is killed off screen. There was never really any other conceivable option. The movie then picks up a year later at the UN, where France and America are trying to take advantage of the power vacuum in Wakanda’s leadership to get their hands on Vibranium (a metal or an ore or something that’s found only in Wakanda). Someone, somewhere has developed a Vibranium detector, and while using it on a deep sea expedition, a bunch of Americans are attacked and killed by a bunch of magic blue fish men. As it turns out, these magic blue fish men are Wakanda’s new enemy, another magic kingdom with a leader in tiny pants with flying fish attached to his ankles.
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is probably the least action-oriented Marvel movie of recent times. There is one big set piece in the first 30 minutes and – of course – another in the last 30 minutes, but that’s about it. For movies that are so heavily reliant on action, Marvel is inexcusably terrible at doing action, so it’s probably to the film’s advantage that there’s so little of it. Nevertheless, I was bored rigid for most of its considerable 160 minute runtime. It’s not that nothing happens, it’s just that what happens is profoundly tedious.
The main problem with Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is that it’s a movie without a strong central character. There is no doubt that Boseman has left a gaping hole, and this sequel fails to fill it. One particular character comes closest to filling the role of protagonist, set down the path of the hero’s journey, but the character is not strong or engaging (or even likeable) enough to earn the title. Regardless, it’s difficult to care because the whole endeavour is so deeply underwhelming and inconsequential.
Each and every character displays a fondness for telling us what they’re about to do, and why they’re about to do it. Exposition is dumped in huge swathes of dialogue. You can almost see the speech bubbles. There is also a considerable amount of shoehorning in stuff that’s relevant only because some random character has yet another Marvel TV show in the pipeline. It’s all very throwaway and ephemeral. Nothing feels essential.
The character design is appalling. It’s possible that too much effort has gone into trying to please the comic book fans, and to replicate an aesthetic that’s been lifted straight from the source. This is an approach that never works. All it does is to draw attention to how ludicrous the whole endeavour really is. As a result, Black Pather: Wakanda Forever is often unintentionally funny. But not often enough to make it worthwhile.
This isn’t the worst final act that Marvel has committed to celluloid, but that’s a very crowded field. It’s usually 20 minutes of one thing throwing another thing around in the dark. The last 20 minutes of Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is noteworthy for having a final action sequence that transpires in daylight, so at least you can see what’s supposed to be happening, even if you’re still not entirely sure why it’s happening.
Black Pather: Wakanda Forever is the seventh Marvel movie in 18 months. Most people don’t see their barber seven times in 18 months. With every new release the workings of the Marvel apparatus is exposed a little more. These things aren’t movies. Marvel doesn’t make movies anymore, it just makes content. These things are just an assortment of characters and events fed into an algorithm that spits out a product with the sole function of setting up the next thing. It doesn’t matter what Marvel has out in cinemas, it just matters that Marvel has something – anything – out in cinemas. Story and character are of no importance, just as long at the poster looks good, and there’s a trailer that the fans can tweet about.