By Kieran Burt.
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever has debuted in cinemas, and is easily the most poignant and moving MCU film to date. Exploring legacy has of course been a part of the MCU since Avengers: Endgame, but this film has an integral focus on how important Chadwick Boseman, and by extension T’Challa, is to the film and cast.
The looming question going into this film was whether it acts as a fitting tribute to Chadwick Boseman, who of course sadly died midway through 2020. How different characters react is a central focus, with grief and the potential pitfalls it can lead a person. Shuri (Letitia Wright) and Queen Ramonda (Angela Bassett) show the many ways someone might react.
Namor finally makes his way into the MCU, being one of the first characters Marvel created way back in 1939. Actor Tenoch Huerta and director Ryan Coolger completely reimagine him, and in doing so give him complex motivations. Namor’s rage and desperation are constant throughout, but does have a caring side to him. Hopefully the age of boring and one note MCU villains is largely over, with Phase Four mostly delivering compelling bad guys.
Talokan, while having a strong inspirational background instead of being just another Atlantis clone, doesn’t get a chance to shine, with the CGI not being overly impressive. No doubt filming and creating underwater scenes is hard for all sorts of reasons, but Wakanda Forever doesn’t try to be revolutionary, and this will age very quickly with Avatar: The Way of Water coming out in around a month.
Marvel always included politics, whether it’s kicking off the franchise with the War on Terror and war profiteering in Iron Man, the freedom versus fear debate in Captain America: Winter Soldier or the recent activism of She-Hulk: Attorney At Law. Wakanda Forever is no exception.
The film of course continues the identity politics it’s revered for, but expands into geopolitics, and makes this a key part of the film. Wakanda increasingly finds itself isolated on the world stage, which, in our fragmented and internationally divided world, is timely exploration. It’s a natural broadening of the conflict, asking how the world reacts when a new superpower rises.
There is limited action in the film as it’s mostly devoted to the political machinations of everyone involved. This might put some people off, but Wakanda Forever mostly creates engaging situations throughout. Coming in at a whopping two hours and 40 minutes though, it leaves a lot that should have been restructured. One side plot in particular feels like it’s there purely to set up the MCU’s future, and not because Ryan Coolger found it interesting.
When action does occur, it’s largely satisfying, but there are a couple of areas where the film drops the ball, and feels uninspired. The longer the film goes on though, the cooler the action gets (let it be known that this film beat The Way of Water to battlecarrier whales). It’s not afraid to go brutal and morbid where it needs to, and when coupled with the showing less action in general that this is Marvel for adults. And that’s a brave choice.
Riri Williams (Dominique Thorne) makes her debut in the film, and she’s largely a missed opportunity. The situation the film finds her in to start with is more interesting and is hardly touched on, but hopefully will be better explained in the upcoming Iron Heart Disney+ show. Her suit looks like a cross between the red power ranger, ladybird and a bit of Bumblebee for good measure. Thankfully, because of how Disney merchandising works, it will no doubt be changed for her show.
Wakanda Forever lets the uneven Phase Four go out with a bang, being a fitting tribute to Chadwick Boseman, a geopolitical epic and character exploration. It is a tad too long, with bits in the middle part feeling like they could be cut down, and some action is a bit uninspired.