Marvel could have had a real moment here… but the film is found lacking.
King T’Challa is dead. Wakanda is left vulnerable to attack from foreign nations vying for acquisition of vibranium, the country’s rare metallic resource. But there is another nation, beneath the waves, that also enters this power vacuum.
Losing someone is never easy, and Chadwick Boseman’s life being cut so short by cancer was a colossal blow to Hollywood; here was a man with a bright and influential future ahead of him. The Marvel fanbase was torn as to the direction the MCU could take it, as were surely the heads of studio. Do you recast T’Challa? Or do you address the event head on… and kill off the character as well?
Production had not started, so the studio, as well as returning director Ryan Coogler (Creed) and the full returning cast, opted for the latter.
Perhaps the harder choice? Perhaps opened doors to grip emotional weight felt by the actors and crew themselves? Perhaps to give real resonance and power to the man’s memory, and change the MCU pattern for one, brilliant moment?
Now, in context to the current MCU productions, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is not the worst. Especially when considering the massive overhaul and reshoots required in light of the tragedy. It still had an amazing supporting cast returning from the first film! Danai Gurira, Winston Duke, Lupita Nyong’o, are all as good as they have ever been. Letitia Wright, as Shuri, has the focus drawn to her now and Shuri was already a great character, and she only gets more compelling here (well, until she doesn’t) The special effects and production value is much better than with the first film, as well.
Sounds pretty good so far! Well, this is all chemistry from the first film so far…
T’Challa dies, tastefully off-screen and without any CGI rendering for new footage or deep fake technology. But the film is content to have him die from “a mysterious illness” that all of Wakanda (and presumably, the Avengers?) could not cure. This clearly referencing the real death of Boseman…
His body is taken in a casket through a ceremony, then is weirdly whisked into a CG tractor beam into a CG space ship and never seen again?
Seemed a little… ambiguous? Even a little cold?
But now the film has to begin, and we are introduced to our antagonist: Namor. A self-claimed “mutant” (the word is important for the MCU) who commands a nation of deep sea merfolk who also have a resource of vibranium. But Namor protects his people with force, and killing, and when his mysterious attacks are blamed on Wakanda, Wakanda also receives a call of alliance with Talokan. This, relies on Wakanda delivering a scientist who developed a machine to find vibranium in the first place. This scientist is Riri Williams, a 19 year old tech prodigy.
Sound convoluted? It should, because it is.
The film is long at 160 minutes (that’s only 18 minutes shorter than Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring) and it feels quite laboured with everything it is juggling at once, narratively. It feels long, as well. This may in part be because of the screenplay being reworked due to the tragedy. While T’Challa’s death does give some character motivations at times, it is not a story through line. When the film gets into its second and third acts, characters have mere fleeting exchanges about him and how he is gone, which feel tact on to the bigger story.
Riri Williams as well (played well by Dominique Thorne) feels like Spider-Man in Civil War, an optional extra that a committee decided to throw in because it will inevitably become a Disney+ show. Her “Iron Man” suit looked terrible, also.
A long story short, Wakanda Forever feels laboured and not especially focused. While it does have the magnetism of the first film’s supporting cast, it doesn’t feel like a fully realized farewell to a character who had so much more to give.
It could have been a unique Marvel experience, and while it does stay well away from the silly humour and drives for a more honest, earnest experience, its narrative feels coy or even afraid to soar to greater heights.
Additional Marshmallows: The film also has one of the worst examples of “hero sustains mortal wound only for the film to completely forget it happened seconds later” cliché. Wow.
Additional, Additional Marshmallows: There’s a sense of the MCU tripping over itself now. Not only does Riri not get called out for literally making an Iron Man suit, but there’s a vocalized fear of artificial intelligence takes over the world. Uh… Ultron happened? No one remembers that, huh?