Initial Reactions to ‘Black Panther: Wakanda Forever’
A beautiful tribute to Chadwick Boseman…but not much else.
This post contains some basic plot details about Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.
I watched Black Panther: Wakanda Forever at a packed public screening this weekend and I have to confess it’s a tough film to discuss. This is a 2 hour and 41 minute long film that is, at times, exhilarating and inventive but also mostly a slog and a bore. It pays loving tribute to Chadwick Boseman in its opening — and possibly the most powerful use of the opening Marvel Studios logo montage to date — but feels aimless.
The film’s biggest issue is its lack of focus. Angela Bassett plays Queen Ramonda and spends the first part of the film dealing with her grief at T’Challa’s passing and trying to keep the kingdom of Wakanda together. Bassett is a force of nature and commands the screen every time she’s on it (honestly I can imagine a different, better version of this film where she’s the main character, but it would consequently be a stretch to call it Black Panther film).
But the film quickly turns its focus to Shuri (Leticia Wright), who is at a different stage of her grief and trying to figure out her place in Wakanda too. Meanwhile, the world is trying to get its hand on vibranium, there’s a young scientist named Riri Williams (Domonique Thorne) who may hold the key to getting more of it, and oh by the way did I mention that there’s a whole other badass character named Namor who has some pretty cool powers and also has a whole kingdom (Talokan) he’s trying to defend?
It’s an overwhelming amount of…stuff. Yet the movie’s massive runtime and uneven pacing make the movie feel overstuffed and listless at the same time. The movie’s themes about grief and the plight of the oppressed get lost in a wave of clunky exposition and mostly-forgettable CG-heavy action scenes.
Boseman was a true talent and his body of work made an indelible imprint on our culture. In paying tribute to him, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever also reminds us of how much a a film like this needed him to tie this type of material together.
But hey, these are just my thoughts! Let me know what you thought of the movie in the comments below. And thanks for reading!
Please subscribe to this newsletter. It’s all I have. Please.
Other writers whose writing you should read about Black Panther: Wakanda Forever
Robert Daniels (from) writes about Wakanda Forever over at Rogerebert.com:
The hulking script is chock-full of ideas and themes. Rather than fighting their common enemy (white colonists), two kingdoms helmed by people of color are pitted against each other (an idea that never thematically lands), and the film must delve into the cultural pain that still exists from the historical annihilation of Central and South America’s Indigenous kingdoms. It must also contend with a bevy of other requirements: setting up the Marvel TV series “Ironheart” (which Dominique Thorne will star in), acknowledging The Snap, grieving Boseman’s death, and finding a new Black Panther. These competing interests are no less smoothed out by MCU’s blockbuster demands (that this must be a mainstream hit and usher in the next phase of the cinematic universe) and the weight of satiating Black folks who feel seen by the fantastical confirmation of Black regalism. It’s too much for one movie. And you get the sense that this should’ve been two.
Angelica Jade Bastien over at Vulture:
Wakanda Forever is too drab to work as a capable sequel, too unfocused to feel wholly consequential among the spoiling bombast of the larger MCU, too surface-level in its characterization and thematic entanglements to function as a worthy memorial to a star gone far too soon. It is neither developed enough narratively nor complex enough politically. It is a film not about Blackness or Indigenous identity, though it hides behind the sheen of both.
Rendy Jones appreciated what the film was trying to accomplish:
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever flies beyond the confines of the MCU as a thoughtful, resonant action-drama with exemplary performances from the ensemble and passionate natural emotions. When the screenplay acts as a character study of grief and its ramifications, it serves as a hard-hitting poetic ode to Chadwick and the mantle of the Black Panther. Despite its retreads, this is one of the best movies of the MCU’s catalog to date.
Marvel and Ryan Coogler had other plans. The Royal family of Wakanda had other plans. Namor had his own plans. Marvel’s story for Namor was obviously supposed play out in a different way. This film is unique, because it’s the first example I can think of where the characters AND film makers are dealing with the sudden death of a loved one at the same time. Death is a part of life. It’s a shaping force. It’s not pretty. It doesn’t usually leave a happy ending in its wake. I think this is the best we could have hoped for from the characters in the film AND the film makers. Cheers to Marvel for not recasting. Don’t fight against death. Accept it, and be thankful for what you have.
I'm still processing how I feel about the movie as a story. I also felt it was overlong with a confusing reliance on its McGuffin, a machine and the Vibranium it can detect, to propel not just the story but complex motivations of its characters. I felt like Martin Freeman's character needed to be cut long ago. Riri Williams as a character was good, but felt shoe horned to create conflict where one didn't seem to exist.
But. This movie did something so astoundingly well that I am having trouble not letting it eclipse all my judgment. I have my own bias here since I am Mexican-American, but the way this movie changed the representation game for not just Hispanics in Hollywood, but mesoamerican indigenous cultures that represent our ancestry? My jaw dropped at the stunning images and the care used in depicting them. Their blue skin was shed in favor of beautiful natural brown tones when navigating their home underwater. The depiction of their writing, jewelry, and cuisine felt lovingly portrayed. The music! And another Black Panther villain who isn't really wrong, just at odds with our protagonist.
I've always been on the side of more representation, and was a fan of previous hispanic voices in the MCU like Pena, Saldana, Dawson, and more recently Isaac and Hayek. But Huerta's Namor (and the extended cast's Talokan) really felt like it might move the needle.
If there's any reservation with this aspect of the movie it might be that it feels like the best place to showcase these new voices is maybe in a stand-alone film and not in the middle of a movie that holds such a special place for Black and African-American folks, but as Shuri visually realizes at the climax of the movie - our stories are so similar and our diasporas are more similar than they are different that it is awful for us to fight against each other instead of uniting against our shared oppressors.