“Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” begins with a death that rocked Hollywood and Comic Con Nation.
Chadwick Boseman’s 2020 passing forced the MCU to alter the obligatory sequel to 2018’s “Black Panther.”
“Wakanda Forever” moves on from the star’s death, embracing grief before the follow-up’s credits can roll. What follows captures some, but certainly not all, of what made the 2018 film a wondrous affair.
We’re left with a bloated tale with glimpses of what director Ryan Coogler can bring to a four-quadrant blockbuster. It’s more proof the MCU’s cultural dominance is no more.
Wakanda’s ruling family remains shell-shocked by T’Challa’s death one year later. A new threat soon arrives, starting with a U.N. meeting where Wakanda’s vibranium reserves are targeted by several nations.
Cue the colonial-style exploitation of an African nation, a theme that fits snugly into the “Panther” franchise.
Not so fast, Queen Ramonda says. Angela Bassett gets more to do here than the first time ’round, one rare way the sequel laps the source material.
That won’t stop nefarious types from seeking vibranium elsewhere, a search that introduces the MCU to the underwater realm run by Prince Namor (Tenoch Huerta). Namor, a longtime Marvel Comics hero also known as the Sub Mariner, seethes with rage over how his people were grossly mistreated during their land-dwelling days. (Don’t ask … it’s a meandering flashback)
Now, Namor wants to team with Wakanda to wage war against the rest of the world.
The setup involves iffy explanations, the introduction of an unnecessary new character (upcoming Disney+ hero Ironheart) and way too much exposition. The “Black Panther” franchise has more on its mind than CGI mayhem, thank goodness. And Coogler is shrewd enough not to shove said lessons down our throats.
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“Wakanda Forever” gets lost in the personal politics of characters we haven’t gotten to know over a series of MCU adventures.
It’s one thing to lament the human toll hulking out leaves on Bruce Banner. We’ve watched him evolve over several films, including some where he’s the main attraction. Here, we’re told to care, and care deeply, about minor players we barely got to know the first time.
The screenplay, credited to Coogler along with Joe Robert Cole, isn’t strong enough to seal that deal.
The film tries some comic relief with mixed results, but “Wakanda Forever” remains obsessed with vengeance, death and the perils of unchecked power. Except those themes are delivered with little nuance.
Returning player Martin Freeman gets an unnecessary subplot paired with Julia Louis-Dreyfus, a fine comic star on hand for no apparent reason. Their inclusion could be trimmed away, saving us some of the film’s grueling 161 minute running time.
Coogler stages a neat early scene showcasing Namor’s army, but the battle is too poorly lit to pop. That’s similarly true for other first-act sequences. When the lights finally come on, the cinematography lacks the “wow” factor of the 2018 film, although Namor’s CGI world is wonderfully rendered and fresh.
Letitia Wright flashed movie-star wattage in the 2018 film as Shuri, the techie with the spirited wit. Here, her role is dutifully expanded, blending regret for not saving her brother with the sense she may be her nation’s last best hope.
And, if you’ve seen the trailer you know another Wakandan picks up the Black Panther mantle. That succession should be the film’s crowning moment, like when the Man of Steel returns in “Superman II.” Instead, it comes off as perfunctory, part of a larger, messier narrative.
Comic book movies should deliver some Pow and Bam, not just wallow in mourning. Far better is a mid-movie battle where Wakanda gets flooded thanks to a certain undersea foe.
Audiences were understandably shocked by Boseman’s passing, especially given how he kept this cancer fight private and kept working until his body finally gave out. His stoicism in the face of his mortality is richer than any movie could duplicate.
Everyone mourned his public passing.
“Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” banks heavily on our real-life emotions without expanding that grief to make the sequel worthy of Boseman’s legacy.
HiT or Miss: “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” is ambitious but bland, a valiant attempt to sustain a franchise without its MVP.