I’ve been down on Marvel’s Phase 4 in general. But Wakanda Forever… wasn’t as bad as the rest. It was, in fact, actually decent! Read on for my thoughts.
T’Challa, King of Wakanda/ the Black Panther, is dead. His kingdom and family mourn his passing. Princess Shuri struggles to move forward, haunted by the notion she might have saved her brother. But a new threat to Wakanda (and the world) forces Shuri to re-examine the legacy of T’Challa, and how she might save or destroy it for good.
Ryan Coogler and company had the unenviable task of following their gargantuan hit of 2018… without the star. How do you make a Black Panther movie without Black Panther or Chadwick Boseman? Nothing they did was sure to please everyone.
Fans like me balked at the mere announcement of Wakanda Forever! Would it be– at best– a desperate attempt to recapture the Black Panther magic? Or would it be a soulless attempt to cash in on Boseman’s legacy? Having watched the film, I can assure you it wasn’t soulless… but I’m unconvinced Marvel didn’t cash in on Boseman’s untimely death.
My judgement of Wakanda Forever skews closer to my original concern: in that it’s a lesser version of the original. It’s not bad by any means though. WF’s cast and crew gave this film their all, and I’ll give them their due.
Some people might even see Wakanda Forever as SUPERIOR to the original. It deepens the characterizations of its supporting cast, adds to Wakanda’s lore, features more impressive action set-pieces, doubles down on the emotional weight, and increases the general sense of scope.
However– Wakanda Forever suffers from Marvel’s increasingly annoying synergy problem. Namely: it shoe-horns in multiple characters whose only function is to promote their upcoming movies or Disney+ shows. They added little to the story, and bloated the run-time.
That run-time, speaking of, was a struggle to get through. It’s frustratingly slow-paced, and often boring (I was bored– friends of mine were not). I’ll credit Marvel for giving Ryan Coogler lee-way to make the film he wanted to make, so far as I can tell, but that doesn’t make said film packed to the brim with entertainment value. Maybe I’d forgive more of Wakanda Forever‘s short-comings if I received 20 minutes less of them.
Ryan Coogler’s direction was glorious though! Every frame of Wakanda Forever features his passion and pride. It’s a labor of love, with a deep respect for Boseman which permeates the screen. Coogler had a strongly executed vision with which I didn’t entirely gel, but which I respect.
Autumn Durald Arkapaw’s cinematography, in addition, is some of Marvel’s all-time best! Wakanda Forever visually stunned me. It actually looked like a movie– strange as that seems to say. Most of Marvel’s Phase 4 has this cheap, flat, green-screeney, boring look. Arkapaw gladly avoided that style in favor of one more cinematic. This Marvel fan noticed and appreciated the effort.
Wakanda Forever also featured reasonably good special effects! This, once again, beats the garbage most of Phase 4 tried to pass off on us consumers. I won’t pretend the effects were awesome. But they were at least crafted competently for a change!
A BRIEF ASIDE: I beg you Marvel to kindly stop stretching your VFX teams so thin. You must, for the good of us all, stop releasing half a dozen projects a year and focus your efforts. That’ll solve so many of your visual and critical issues, and prevent audience burn-out. Moving on…
Wakanda Forever features a well-crafted story about community, legacy, and grief. Its twists shocked and delighted me; it was unexpected; and it satisfied my investment in this world.
One of the story’s coolest elements concerns the Black Panther itself– or rather the lack of one. Wakanda Forever is effectively a superhero movie without a superhero. The fact that nobody takes up the Black Panther mantle between movies allows us to see the world without its hero. Wakanda can take care of itself without a protector… but they and we know something is missing. The Black Panther’s spirit towers over the story, threatening to engulf it. But this was bound to happen either way, so I’m glad the plot leaned into this phenomenon.
Princess Shuri (Letitia Wright) impressively evolves from comedic relief side-character to sympathetic and three-dimensional heroine. I’ll admit my hesitance at seeing a Black Panther movie where she was the lead. Shuri was low on my list of favourite characters. But Letitia Wright steps into the role of protagonist well, and leads the film with pathos.
Yet the biggest stand-out of Wakanda Forever is Angela Bassett’s Queen Ramonda. Here’s another character of whom I thought little after the first film. But Basset commands Wakanda and the screen with grace and gravitas~
These Black Panther films are 2/2 with their antagonists. Namor instantly solidifies himself as one of the MCU’s top villains. He’s sympathetic, and justified– yet someone we know must not succeed in their aims. He, like Loki, is a villain we can watch commit atrocities yet not call a monster because we understand and accept his motivations as fair (though misguided and paranoid).
I must also shout-out Ludwig Göransson’s score. It effectively ranges from rousing to tear-jerking, and helps carry Wakanda Forever through even its weakest sections. And I adore the stylistic choices, which evoke a more global musical inspiration than typical Hollywood action films.
Wakanda Forever occasionally evoked some powerful emotions, offered mildly entertaining political intrigue, and generally bored me for the rest. It’s a technically impressive film which left me disappointed. My inner critic heaps praise on Wakanda Forever for its impressive technical prowess, but the casual film-lover doesn’t care to watch it again.
Wakanda Forever is Worth a Watch, in any case.
MY SPOILER-FILLED THOUGHTS CAN BE FOUND ON THIS EPISODE OF “CLOSE UP WITH RYAN AND JOE”.
Are you glad this film was made, despite Chadwick Boseman’s passing? What did you think of Wakanda Forever? What are your Phase 4 rankings? Please share your thoughts in the comments (no spoilers please). If you have any ideas for future articles, or any questions, let me know.
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Till next time,