Movie ReviewsJosh Reviews Black Panther: Wakanda Forever

Josh Reviews Black Panther: Wakanda Forever

Chadwick Boseman’s tragic death in 2020 at only 43 years old was a tremendous loss.  A loss for his family and friends.  And a loss to the world for all the art that he could have, and should have, had an opportunity to create.  Far down the list of aspects of the tragedy of Mr. Boseman’s death — though still, I think, significant, due to the importance of the character — is the loss of the character of T’Challa and the ripple effects that caused in the MCU.

Following the success of the 2018 Black Panther film, writer/director Ryan Coogler had completed a draft script for a sequel film before Mr. Boseman’s passing.  When Mr. Boseman died, that, of course, scuttled those plans and left Marvel and the Black Panther family with what I’m sure must have been the wrenching decision process of what to do next.  They chose not to recast the role, but instead to write the death of T’Challa into the MCU and to pick up the pieces from there.  This feels like a wise decision to me, and the completely reworked sequel film, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, is a beautiful tribute to both the character of T’Challa and to the life and impact of Chadwick Boseman.

(Was recasting the only option?  I can understand why the team involved with the Black Panther films did not want to attempt to replace the late Mr. Boseman, and I adore the film they’ve created.  Ten years from now, though, I wonder if we’ll look back and regret the absence of T’Challa from the MCU.  Unfortunately these situations do happen, and in general my feeling is that these characters are larger than any one actor.  When Carrie Fisher passed away, there was an extra dollop of sadness that we’d never get to see the story that had apparently been planned for Princess Leia, who was due to be the focus of the third Star Wars sequel film.  As a huge fan of the character of Princess Leia that Ms. Fisher had created, I was sorry we’d never get to see the planned conclusion of her story.  However, after watching The Rise of Skywalker, it became clear that there was no plan at all for those sequel films!  So I didn’t in the end feel robbed of a planned story, and I was pleased by how they managed to incorporate Leia into the film using previously unused deleted footage and a dollop of CGI.  When Anton Yelchin died tragically, J.J. Abrams and the Star Trek team announced immediately that they would not recast Chekov for the next film.  I felt that was a mistake; that Chekov was an important part of the Star Trek ensemble and it would only add to the tragedy of Mr. Yelchin’s loss to also lose the character of Chekov forever.  That fourth Star Trek film never happened, so it’s hard to say whether that would or wouldn’t have worked.)

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is a beautiful film.  It’s very emotional and deeply moving.  In the absence of the lead character of T’Challa, the film gives many of the supporting characters of the first film room to grow and step into focus, and it’s a delight to see these wonderful female characters (and also M’Baku!) step into the light.  The film is very long (around two hours and forty minutes), but I thought it zipped along at a propulsive pace.  I was not for one second bored or antsy.  The film builds to a battle-between-nations storyline that is excitingly epic and thrilling, with some great sci-fi action spectacle.  I was overjoyed to see Namor — a wonderful character from the comics — brought to such interesting life on screen.

Go see this film!

And now, are ready to dive in?  (See what I did there?)  SPOILERS ahead, folks, so c’mon back after you’ve seen the movie.

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is surprisingly stand-alone, despite having been billed as the conclusion of Marvel’s Phase Four of films.  For the most part, this works in the film’s favor.  There are a lot of characters and plot-lines in this film, and it helps that nothing feels too overburdened or overcomplicated by also trying to tie into other films.  I was surprised, though, that we didn’t see any Avengers cameos at T’Challa’s funeral.  (Come on, not even Bucky Barnes, who spent years living in Wakanda??)  And, frankly, one of my only real criticisms of this film is that there’s no end credits scene.  I’ve subsequently read online some Marvel people say they didn’t want to mess with the emotional impact of the film, but I think this was a huge mistake.  At this point, they have trained us to stay until the end of the credits; that I did so (along with most of the other people in the theatre when I saw this film) only to discover we’d waited for nothing was a big annoyance, and a needless spoiling of the otherwise great time I’d had watching this movie.

I’ve spent the last few years wondering how this film would handle the absence of T’Challa.  I think they made all of the right choices.  The film doesn’t beat around the bush or try to hide T’Challa’s absence.  We’re immediately confronted with the reality of his death, but not in a way that feels insensitive or awkward.  (There’s no CGI T’Challa.)  It’s very well done.  (As an aside, I’m not quite sure why the film jumps ahead one year after that prologue.  The scene in which Queen Ramonda addresses the U.N. feels like it would have made more sense in the weeks or months after T’Challa’s death, rather than a full year later.  Also, yet another time jump makes it even more confusing as to what year this film takes place.  The MCU films basically advanced in real time, taking place in the year the movies were released, until the five-year time-jump in Avengers: Endgame.  At this point, I have no idea what year these films take place in… and possibly neither does Marvel, hence the need to cover the year on Aunt May’s tombstone in Spider-Man: No Way Home.  Also, at the end of the movie, after meeting the little boy, my family and I all tried to do the math as to when he might have been born and how old he was in that scene, and we got very confused trying to figure out when this movie takes place.)  Getting back to T’Challa, I had been wondering how they could avoid an appearance by him on the Spirit Plane when one of the characters, Shuri or Nakia probably, invariably were able to become the Black Panther.  The idea that Shuri would expect to meet her mother, not her brother, made perfect sense to me (because T’Challa had met his own father back in the first Black Panther film).  And the twist that Shuri met Killmonger, in a surprise cameo by Michael B. Jordan, was brilliant.

Letitia Wright’s Shuri was a break-out pleasure in the first Black Panther film, and it is for the most part wonderful to see her step into the lead role in this film.  (I say for the most part, because I must admit to having a hard time putting aside all the reports and rumors of Ms. Wright’s ill-informed anti-vaccination position during the pandemic.  Ms. Wright shared an anti-vax video on twitter, reportedly expressed anti-vax sentiments on set, and even now it’s unclear if she ever actually got vaccinated.  This doesn’t feel like someone I’m eager for Marvel to hang an important character and franchise around.)  That being said, Ms. Wright is wonderful in this new film.  She and her character are pushed into much deeper, darker places than we’ve seen from her before, and she rises to the challenge which what feels like effortless grace.  The sequence with Killmonger crystalizes Shuri’s story in the film, as we see her wrestle with anger and a righteous desire for vengeance upon the world, exactly the same as he did.  That’s a clever place to take Shuri’s character, and Ms. Wright does a terrific job at exploring these new depths to Shuri.  It’s also great fun getting to see Shuri kick ass and become the new Black Panther.  Personally, I’d been hoping that Nakia would take that role, but it makes sense and feels right for it to be Shuri.

I loved the major role that Okoye (Danai Gurira) had in the film.  She’s such a great character.  I loved that the film gave her a number of great action sequences; particularly the chase in Boston.  One of the most powerful scenes in the film was Okoye’s wrenching final scene with Queen Ramonda.  It’s sad to consider that they never reconciled.  (I did, though, think that it was somewhat weird that after Okoye’s dismissal by the Queen that she dropped out of the film for a while; I’d have expected her to continue searching for Shuri!  Also, I must confess that I didn’t love her weird-looking super-suit at the end.  I wanted to see her back in the red of the Dora Milaje.)

I was also thrilled to see Angela Bassett more front-and-center in this film as Queen Ramonda.  It’s great to see how Ramonda has thrived as Queen of Wakanda, even as she’s grappled with incomparable tragedies.  I loved her early scene at the U.N., in which she effortlessly demonstrated her toughness and savvy.  Angela Bassett has incredible screen presence.  I was very surprised at what went down with Ramonda’s death at the hands of Namor; I hated to see that character go, but wow that was an emotional moment and it made sense for the stakes to get escalated between Wakanda and the Atlanteans/Talokans at that point in the film.

Speaking of incredible screen presences, Lupita Nyong’o was once again a formidable presence as Nakia.  I wish the film had allowed Nakia to have a more central role in the story.  (As I wrote above, I’d been rooting for Nakia to become the new Black Panther!)  But from a story-perspective, I can understand why they chose to have Nakia more on the sidelines.  It makes sense on a character level that she might not have wanted to remain in Wakanda after T’Challa’s death… and of course her choice makes even more sense following the revelations in the emotional mid-credits sequence.  Still, I hope she gets a larger role in the next Black Panther film!

I was happy to see Winston Duke back as M’Baku.  He’s so much fun as this character.  I think the film handled M’Baku very well.  He’s still somewhat of an outsider who likes to push and needle at the edge of things; but we also see that after the events of the first film he’s grown, and he’s a closer ally to our Wakanda heroes.  I would have liked to have seen him have a more important role in the final battle; that felt like a small missed opportunity to me.  I did love the twist at the very end — does this mean M’Baku is in charge of Wakanda now?  Is that a good thing?  I love M’Baku, but he doesn’t seem like the greatest leader.  (Also: why can’t Shuri be Queen AND the Black Panther?  T’Challa was able to balance that!)

I was pleased to see Dora Milaje fighter Ayo (Florence Kasumba) back and getting a little more attention here.  (She’s been on the sidelines of Captain America: Civil War, the first Black Panther, and Avengers: Infinity War, and she appeared in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier.)  And I enjoyed meeting the new Dora, Aneka (played by I May Destroy You’s Aneka Cole).  I liked the quick revelation that Ayo and Aneka are a couple!  That was a fun surprise.

Let’s talk about Namor.  I am so happy that Namor has finally, finally appeared in an MCU film!!  They’ve made a lot of changes to the character from the comics… but I’m impressed by how, although this is a very different Namor, the character still feels exactly like Namor!  It’s a great magic act.  Tenoch Huerta is perfectly cast as Namor.  He has the physical presence, and also a soulfulness that really helps to give the character pathos and depth.  We get Namor’s charisma and his warmth and also his arrogance and fierceness.

I love that the filmmakers have rethought and redesigned the Atlanteans from the comics, creating the Talokan civilization we see in this film.  I love the way Namor’s underwater kingdom is inspired by Mesoamerican culture and design.  It’s a terrific choice.  (Overall, I was very happy by how well the underwater civilization was brought to life on screen… though I suspect that next month Avatar: The Way of Water is going to put to shame this film’s depiction of an underwater society…!)

It makes me deliriously happy that Namor’s little feet wings from the comics appear here… and somehow they don’t look silly!!!  Somehow it works that Namor uses them to fly!  I always thought this was a goofy idea from the comics, and I wouldn’t have minded had the feet-wings been dropped for the MCU… but I’m thrilled they weren’t.  Despite all the changes, Namor looks surprisingly visually accurate to his usual depiction in the comics, down to his green trunks.  I love that they even had him say Imperius Rex!!  (That’s his catch-phrase in the comics.)

Frankly, my only complaint about Namor was that they had him pronounce his name nah-more.  I have always thought it was said NAY-more.  Weirdly, all the other characters in the film do seem to say NAY-more.  But since the character himself says his name as nah-more, I guess they’re all mispronouncing it?  I don’t love the idea that from now on the proper pronunciation of this character’s name is nah-more.

I love that in the film Namor’s people call him K’uk’ulkan.  I, of course, was very familiar with that name for a Mayan winged serpent god.  Because I am a great scholar?  No!  Because Kukulkan appeared in the classic Star Trek: The Animated Series episode “How Sharper than a Serpent’s Tooth”!!!  I must have watched that episode a dozen times as a kid; the name Kukulkan is burned into my brain.  It made me smile to hear it used here.

I love the character of Riri Williams in the comics, and I was excited when it came out that she’d be appearing here, in advance of her Ironheart Disney+ show.  (Riri was created by Brian Michael Bendis and Mike Deodato back in 2016; she’s a brilliant young kid who built herself an Iron Man suit.)  I was pleased by how large a role Riri has in this film!  Young actress Dominique Thorne does a terrific job at brining Riri to life, with all of her spunk and bravery and fierce intelligence.  It’s fun to see Riri get swept up in this Wakanda adventure.  I loved the look of both her super-suits (both the original one she built by herself and her sleek Wakandan-tech one that she wore at the end).  I can’t wait to see her again in the Ironheart TV series!

I was pleased to see Martin Freeman back as Agent Ross, though he doesn’t actually have very much of substance to do in the film.

Same goes for Julia Louis Dreyfus, returning as the enigmatic Valentina Allegra de Fontaine.  I love Ms. Dreyfus, and I like the idea of an anti-Nick Fury character, but after several appearances I’m starting to get a little bored.  Marvel needs to better establish who she is and what she wants.  We got a little more info here — she’s now the director of the CIA… and apparently she used to be married to Agent Ross!  (That’s a weird out-of-left-field surprise.)  But this character needs to get fleshed out, ASAP.  If she’s a villain, let her really be a villain!  Let us know what her agenda is and what she’s trying to accomplish.  (I assume she’s eventually going to be involved with the Thunderbolts team of villains, or at least anti-heroes…)

I enjoyed seeing The West Wing’s Richard Schiff, though it’s in a tiny role.  I hope to see more of him in future MCU films someday.

I liked seeing Lake Bell (In a World…) pop up early in the film; I was sorry they killed her off so quickly!

Mabel Cadena and Alex Livinalli play Naomra and Attuma, and they’re… fine.  They didn’t make too much of an impact for me.

Where was Daniel Kaluuya’s character of W’Kabi?  He was a major player in the first Black Panther, and I’d expected to see him again in the sequel.  But instead he’s completely absent, only mentioned in one fleeting line of dialogue that suggests that he’s in prison.  (That line also confirms that he’s Okoye’s husband.  Did we know they were married in the first film??  I don’t think we did!)  It’s very weird to me that W’Kabi doesn’t even make a cameo at T’Challa’s funeral.  I wonder what went on behind the scenes here.

But speaking of characters from the first film… as I’m mentioned above, Michael B. Jordan was amazing in his cameo appearance.  What a great scene!  I’m so glad they found a way to work him back into the story.

As was the case in the first film, I was very impressed by the Afro-futuristic production design and the way that Wakandan culture, technology, music, housing, outfits, props, etc. were all brought to life.  It’s a pleasure to be able to continue to explore this fascinating and beautiful (made-up) culture.

Ever since the start of the MCU, I have been complaining about the generally lackluster scores for their films.  There have been a few exceptions, but far too many MCU movies have had what for me feel like fairly generic scores, lacking proper memorable themes for the characters and heroes.  The first Black Panther was unlike any other MCU film in that it had incredible music, and if anything this sequel is even more of a standout.  Composer Ludwig Göransson has outdone himself here.  I was delighted by the spectacular music that is a critical aspect of Wakanda Forever.  Mr. Göransson has created a thrillingly original and memorable soundscape for this film.  I love how the orchestral and vocal score, and the many songs used in the soundtrack, are so seamlessly woven together.  I need to get the soundtrack to this film so I can enjoy it on its own.  (Click here to read more about Mr. Göransson’s efforts in creating this gorgeous score.)

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is a great film!  Even though this is not the film anyone wanted to make originally, I am impressed by the ways in which director Ryan Coogler and his team (Mr. Coogler also co-wrote the script, along with Joe Robert Cole) adapted following Chadwick Boseman’s tragic death.  Wakanda Forever is a beautiful salute to Mr. Boseman, and a pivot into a new direction for these characters and this series.  I can’t wait to see what comes next.

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