If the Marvel Cinematic Universe ever needed a jolt it’s now. While the box office and streaming juggernaut is still widely popular and hugely profitable, its current phase (Phase IV for those keeping up) is a far cry from the propulsive and cohesive MCU of old that culminated in “The Avengers: Endgame”. Since then, the MCU has been branching off into so many directions and have forgotten about coherence and continuity (yes, I know Kevin Feige and company have a blueprint they’re following, but that doesn’t change how these movies and streaming shows feel).
Quite frankly, the MCU needs a kick in the pants; a boost of adrenaline to get it out of this current malaise where everything feels so lightweight, segmented, and directionless. Earlier this year Sam Raimi tried with the deliciously chaotic and gonzo “Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness”. But predictably it was met with some push-back (it was too dark. it was too violent, it was too “out there”). The dreadful “Thor: Love and Thunder” only exacerbated the MCU’s problems. And now we have the long-awaited “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever”, a movie full of unenviable challenges. Could it be a cinematic return to form for the MCU, or would its emotional baggage be too much to overcome?
For some people, all they really needed was for “Wakanda Forever” to handle Chadwick Boseman‘s passing well. If the movie did that, it would earn enough goodwill that the rest wouldn’t really matter. In a way that’s understandable. The loss of Boseman hit hard and is still felt by many. Director Ryan Coogler had to deal with it, both in reality and within the context of the “Black Panther” character. That’s no easy task. But Coogler does his best, creating something that’s a memorial to both T’Challa and Chadwick Boseman himself. He also provides a cathartic release for audiences and the cast alike. Something that’s needed before he or we can move forward.
“Wakanda Forever” begins by immediately tackling the T’Challa issue. Rather than using CGI to recreate the character or framing his death through a some big action encounter, Coogler and co-writer Joe Robert Cole attribute it to an “undisclosed illness”. It’s undeniably vague and the lack of detail is pretty hard to look past. Still, I didn’t mind how Coogler chose to handle it under the circumstances. It hits pretty hard, especially when we’re reintroduced to the Wakandans as they try to cope with the loss of their king and protector.
The story quickly shifts to one year later as T’Challa’s mother, Queen Ramonda (an excellent Angela Bassett) works to lead the wounded and mourning Wakanda. Meanwhile, her daughter, the tech savvy Princess Shuri (Letitia Wright), is burdened with guilt, feeling she should have been able to use her know-how to save her brother. As they try to navigate this difficult time individually and collectively, Wakanda finds itself a hot topic on the global stage. Various nations are pressuring Ramonda to share their vibranium, the strongest metal in the world which Wakanda kept hidden until the events of the previous film. And with word of Black Panther’s death getting around, some are trying to take it by force.
With a new vibranium-detecting machine in their possession, the US government locate a potential vibranium deposit on the ocean floor. A mining expedition is sent out, but during their operation the entire team is attacked and killed by blue-skinned warriors led by Namor (Tenoch Huerta Mejia), the king of an underwater civilization who, like Wakanda, hides from the outside world and also possesses and protects vibranium.
The brainiacs at the CIA wrongly conclude it was the Wakandans who sabotaged their mission. Meanwhile an angry Namor blames Wakanda for drawing the outsiders to their vibranium in the first place. He approaches Ramonda and Shuri to voice his displeasure and inform them of his plan to find and kill the inventor of the vibranium-detecting machine, an MIT student named Riri Williams (Dominique Thorne). He gives them a choice. They can either join him against the surface world, or he and his warriors will attack Wakanda.
Needless to say the story has a lot going on. While the loss of T’Challa looms over the entire movie, there are also introductions of new characters and new worlds, global politics and at-home tension. It ends up being a little too much as the movie feels needlessly overstuffed even at 160 minutes. Much of it comes from the insistence on franchise service. Take the Riri Williams (aka Ironheart) inclusion. She’s a decent enough character and Thorne’s performance is fine. But here she’s little more than a plot device, and here mainly to promote her upcoming Disney+ streaming series.
The biggest new addition is Namor, a classic comics character with a lot of potential within the MCU. In many ways he’s Coogler’s Killmonger 2.0 – an antagonist with a fairly similar backstory rooted in pain and oppression. Both Namor and Huerta Mejia’s performance start a little soft. But he toughens up later and really embraces the villain role. He’s particularly strong in the action scenes, proving Namor to be a formidable foe.
But the movie can’t fully shake its nagging issues. Some of photography is dark and murky, specifically in Namor’s Mayan-inspired underwater home Talokan (DC and Aquaman had dibs on Atlantis). Also, at times the blue skin of Namor’s warriors doesn’t always look convincing. And while I loved going back to Wakanda, here it’s missing a lot of the detail that made the 2018 film so transporting. It doesn’t quite feel like the same place. Storywise, there’s several strangely rash decisions and knee-jerk reactions. And after some good tense buildup, the ending feels a bit too tidy.
Some of these are small gripes on their own, but they add up. Still Coogler and company deserve credit for facing some really big challenges head-on. And while the heartache is intense, Coogler does more than ride a wave of sentiment and emotion. There are some storytelling issues, the film starts to drag in the middle, and it definitely misses Chadwick Boseman’s quiet dignity and gravitas. But I loved the thorny politics that play out within and between the two vibranium empowered nations. Plus, the introduction of Namor teases some pretty exciting things. And considering how light and breezy the recent MCU has felt, it’s nice and refreshing to get something more serious-minded. “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” is in theaters now.
Feeling the same way?
Can’t see myself returning to superhero movies anytime soon, and this isn’t pulling me in. Also, am fed up of 3 hour movies, less is more usually.
Underneath its emotional top layer, this is very much a superhero movie. And you definitely feel the length.
Your first two paragraphs explained almost 100% of what I felt going into this film regarding the MCU. I also can say if I had to rate this film immediately after seeing it, I would have probably given it 4 stars on your scale. But after reading this, you pointed out a few things that were not done as well as they could have been, so I agree with where you landed on your rating. At the end of the day, I’m very happy with this movie both in terms of the Black Panther storyline and the future of the MCU.
Overall I had a good time with it. It just needed some pruning. And I’ve started to get a little frustrated at how these Marvel movies spend so much time looking forward. End credits scenes are great teases for what’s to come. But when you’re bloating up your movie just to set up an upcoming streaming series, it gets a bit tiresome.
To me, what makes this movie for me is the strong character work and acting. I actually really like the overall story-line, even if it was packed with stuff that didn’t need to be there. Everett Ross’ plot line could’ve been excised entirely and the story wouldn’t have lost any steam. Same with Riri. That absolutely would’ve tightened up the pace of the film. Overall, the film did what it set out to do: Pay respects to T’Challa and Chadwick Boseman while finding a path forward. Honestly, it’s the best we could’ve gotten to finish out Phase 4, which has been a narrative mess from the beginning.
It’s funny, while I would probably rate this higher than most other Phase IV products (other than “Multiverse”), even it doesn’t offer much direction when it comes to the MCU. It feels very much in its own little world. I wholeheartedly agree on Ross and Riri. They felt like needless appendages.
Bottom line for me was Recast T’Challa…. This movie to be honest could have been pushed back for a few mor years to add more real life grieving space for Chadwick’s family. To have Black Panther without T’Challa and a complete story arc sort of puts us in this space of needing to add things to cover up others.
Thanks man. And I feel what you’re saying. It’s REALLY hard to see Black Panther separate from T’Challa.
I agree with the review, and much like you, I enjoyed the movie despite all the behind-the-scenes drama. But I think the addition of the various streaming series on Disney + is really starting to affect the quality of the feature films. Kevin Feige and Marvel are just spreading themselves out too thin, and the deluge of product has transformed the movies into world-building machines. The MCU used to be exceptional populist entertainment with strong characters and engrossing storylines, but the Disney + series has thrown that balance off. Let’s hope Marvel/Disney can course correct. Otherwise, that MCU fatigue could spell the end of this enjoyable franchise.
I couldn’t have said it better. I agree with every point. The MCU right now feels so disjointed. And I too think the streaming shows and the time and resources spent on them is hurting the movies.
I think I liked this film a lot more than you did as I liked the way it handled a lot of the politics and why Wakanda is reluctant to share their vibranium. I mean come on. You know if there is such a thing as vibranium and we get full access to it. We’d end up making things much worse. It does serve as a unique commentary on imperialism as I’m kind of with Namor on his views of the surface people since what happened to the Mayans in the hands of conquistadors and all of that.
I also loved the character developments in the film in regards to the supporting players such as Danai Gurira, Lupita Nyong’o, and Winston Duke as they helped anchor the film with Angela Bassett being the fucking MVP and then-some in that film. The Oscars don’t mean shit if she doesn’t get some recognition. She was God-like in her performance. Especially in that scene with Okoye as that was heartbreaking to watch from Okoye’s perspective.
I look forward to what the MCU is going to do in the years to come knowing that there’s still one more piece of business to finish before the end of the year.
I mention the politics in the review as being something I loved, both the internal politics and the global politics. I actually wish there was more of it. I wasn’t as high on some of the character choices, especially with Okoye. That entire scene you’re talking about made no sense to me and felt like such an egregious overreaction. I did love Bassett’s performance. Not sure if it would make my personal Oscar ballot (so many good choices this year), but 100% in the running.
I Think Letitia Wright needs to be casting as Disney Princess Voice
I Think Princess Shuri is the Great Princess
I guess she’s technically a Disney princess, right?
This review for Wakanda Forever is enough to convince that things will be for the MCU in 2023. Until then, I suggest we imagine She-Hulk in her own 1980’s workout special.
I still don’t feel like I have any firm grasp on what’s next for the MCU. They have so many moving parts right now.