Black Panther: Wakanda Forever sees the end of Phase 4 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. This has been a phase, for better or worse, all about getting over trauma (Thanos) and moving forwards with new heroes, and Wakanda Forever somewhat embodies this.
Following the tragic death of Black Panther actor Chadwick Boseman, Disney made the surprising decision, not the re-cast the character but instead give him a quiet death between movies. As such, Wakanda Forever is a very different Marvel movie. It’s more akin to the family/war drama as the remaining Wakandan Royal Family reel from the loss of their King and Hero as a new enemy, just as powerful as them, prepares for war. It’s unique, well-written, and improves on a lot of the problems people have said about Marvel for years. A great showing for the franchise that shows it’s capable of more than people realize.
A Country In Mourning
King T’Challa, The Black Panther has passed away from an illness. As the people of Wakanda mourn, their kingdom is pressured by the USA to “share” their vibranium with the rest of the world. If that’s not bad enough, they are soon altered to the existence of another nation that has the advanced metal: Talokan, a Mesoamerican-inspired realm from under the sea. It’s led by King Namor, a mutant with super strength, winged feet, and the ability to breathe on both land and sea. Namor wants to invade the surface world with Wakanda as allies, and if they say no, he pledges to flood their country under the waves.
Let’s start with the Panther in the room. I feel the movie pays good respect to the late Chadwick Boseman. Having King T’Challa die quietly off-screen and dedicating a movie to show what a great impact he had on his people, friends, and family is a god send-off that is respectable to both the character and the real man who played him. It fits in well with the theme, that even with Wakanda’s advanced technology, there are still things even they can’t fix.
I certainly prefer this as opposed to say, making a CGI Boseman to cash in on nostalgia like Disney is doing with certain other Marvel icons.
Enemies From The Deep
Going with the theme of moving on from loss, the film feels a lot more slower and serious than most MCU movies. There’s still the occasional quip and plenty of fight scenes but they’re used much more sparingly and appropriately. For the most part, this is a movie about a group of people in mourning: Shuri, Queen Ramonda, Okoye, M’Baku, and Nakia. Each one of them takes time to reflect on what T’Challa meant to them and where they plan to go next. It’s surprisingly introspective and gives the film a good amount of weight. It even helps with the action scenes are Wakanda feels more vulnerable than ever.
The film likewise goes a bit deeper into the heavier themes that the first Black Panther only dipped its toes into. It’s more willing to speak about the horrors of colonialism, American foreign intervention, and the shadier sides of “diplomacy” without feeling too preachy or forced. It shows how world powers like the US and France try to take advantage of Wakanda in its time of distress in a way that feels all too real, for better or worse.
If you’re just here for the usual Marvel affair, it may be a little on the slow slide. The movie is two hours and 45 minutes long with can feel like a drag occasionally if you’re just here for cool stunts and big fights. That being said, there are still plenty of action scenes and world-building to keep you entertained, especially when looking more into Talokan.
The Loss of Family
At this point, I think it’s pointless talking about the casting of Marvel’s films. For all their drawbacks, the casting is almost always on point but even then there are some truly exceptional performances. In this case, that performance is Princess Shuri (Letita Wright).
Shuri is more or less the main character of the movie perfectly capturing the pressure of losing her brother while also being forced to grow up and lead a nation whose traditions and values don’t seem to fully coincide with her own. She is a very different person from her noble brother and the film does a great at depicting her struggle to find her way in an uncertain future.
As for the side characters, Danai Gurira is once again great as Okoye, this time showing a far more vulnerable side of the character following the King’s passing. Queen Ramonda (Angela Bassett) likewise gives a powerful role as the leader of a country trying to stay vital for her people despite everything that’s happened to her. You’ve probably heard her speeches in the trailers and she is truly acting like her life depends on it. It’s beautiful. While he doesn’t have a lot of screen time, Winston Duke, also does great as M’Baku, playing a far more humble role, mentoring Shuri from afar while still being the proud Jabari Warrior he was from the first movie.
The final main character is Riri William (Dominique Thorne), an MIT progeny, attempting to make her own Iron Man Armor. Although she is the catalyst that sparks the conflict of the film, her screen time is relatively short. She acts more like a comic relief but still gets some good scenes, almost acting as an audience surrogate for all the stuff going on with the Wakadans. It does feel like she’s only here to set up her TV series coming out next year but she adds a good bit of levity to the film.
Namor (Tenoch Huerta) is outright one of the best villains in the MCU. Like his comic counterpart, he’s a morally grey figure that goes to extreme lengths to protect his people. Huerta brings a lot of charisma to the role. You can see why so many people would follow this guy as a god, yet the film doesn’t shy away from just how ruthless he is as a conqueror, brutally killing innocent civilians without little to no remorse. His fight scenes are easily the highlight of the movie, being both impressively choreographed and incredibly intimidating. Not bad for a guy dressed in nothing but a pair of booty shorts for most of the movie.
War on The Water
It wouldn’t be a Marvel movie without some well-done fight scenes and Wakanda Forever certainly brings the fights but with a different attitude. The action is far more brutality in these fight scenes, constantly reminding you that this is a film about two countries at war. You see residential areas destroyed, people drowned, and civilians fleeing in terror. Even the fights between heroes focus far more on their injuries and give a good sense of the pain they’re going through with every blow.
There are a couple of scenes in the movie that are legit hard to watch but it makes the stakes feel all the higher. The MCU has always had good fights but these feel a level above thanks to that sense of brutal desperation from both sides.
In an age of superhero saturation, where Marvel’s movies have been accused of being too formulaic and cliched, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever shows that the franchise still has new areas to explore and improve upon. While still having the fight scenes and comic book fantasy we all know and love, it adds in a darker sense of the family drama of a country mourning their fallen king (and a nice tribute to the late Chadwick Boseman).
It won’t be for everyone, but I applaud Marvel for giving Wakanda Forever such a good sense of maturity. Shuri, The Queen, Namor, and the rest of the cast all feel less like costumed quip machines (even when they’re in costume) and more like real people going through the darkest time in their lives and coming out stronger. Hopefully, Marvel will maintain this good writing as they go into Phase Five in the following years.
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Black Panther: Wakanda Forever
- Character development of the main leads is great
- Fight scenes are brutal and well choreographed
- The darker, more mature tone is well done
- May be a little slow paced compared to other MCU movies