Review: Black Panther: Wakanda Forever

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, Ryan Coogler’s sequel to The Shining 2018 Marvel Adventure black Panther, offers a show to book. The production design, again by Hannah Beechler, balances elaborate artificial glamor with the glory of the natural world represented by the landscape of the African fantasy kingdom of Wakanda. When Angela Bassett’s imperious Queen Ramonda stands at court, she does so from a throne shaped like the stylized antlers of a stag beetle—it’s both elegant and menacing, more Phillip Stark than Tony Stark. And Ruth Carter’s costumes are arguably even more magnificent than the ones she created for the first film: Ramonda, in particular, gets a range of fantastic looks, including a regal gown in deep red dotted with intricate brown embroidery, not to mention an assortment of out-of-this-world UFO crowns. Wakanda forever it’s great, okay. Still, there’s not much Coogler or anyone else can do about the gaping hole at its center: none Chadwick Bosemana dose of magic is missing, a sad reality that is no one’s fault.

The film opens with a finale: Wakanda’s princess and genius scientist Shuri (Letisha Wright, attractive as ever) struggles to find a way to save her dying brother T’Challa, the king of Wakanda, as well as the mystical superhero Black Panther. She Can’t Do It : Ramonda appears, her grief vibrating beneath her stoic demeanor, to tell her that her brother has died. The funeral is a half-somber, half-celebratory affair, a mix of melancholic memories and life-affirming rituals, complete with dancers in fringed skirts and feathered hats. T’Challa’s coffin, carried by his team of female pallbearers – including Danai Gurira’s Okoye, showing nothing but giving every ounce of sadness even so – is eventually consigned to heaven, where it is included in a triangular ceremonial object and discarded , Gone forever. In that opening scene, T’Challa is barely a whisper, though his absence hangs over the rest of the film like a kind of meta-presence.

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Angela Bassett enters Black Panther: Wakanda Forever

Annette Brown—Marvel Studios

Putting aside her grief over debt, Queen Ramonda takes the throne as ruler of Wakanda. Back at work, she attends a United Nations summit where she impersonates a dashing French ambassador trying to get his hands on Wakanda’s most valuable resource, Vibranium, for his country’s own use. (This moment is a delight; Bassett throws shade like nobody’s business.) Everyone in the world wants Vibranium, and Wakanda is the only place that has it—or so the citizens of Wakanda believe.

Meanwhile, Shuri is so distraught over the loss of her brother that she can barely function outside of her lab. Her mother tries to counsel her but can’t break through; their relationship has a believably prickly emotional texture. Soon, however, these two have trouble outside of themselves, in the form of an underwater nation of blue people who threaten the balance of Wakanda. This civilization, known as Talocan and springing from ancient Mayan roots, is a bit like Atlantis crossed with Studio 54 – it hardly seems like a threatening place. But its ruler, Namor (Tenoch Huerta), a god-man with pointed ears and wings sprouting from his ankles, is not particularly easy to read. He appears in Wakanda, unannounced and aggressive, half-seeking, half-requiring that country’s help in building a defense against the outside world, which has gotten too close to Talokan’s closely guarded secrets.

Read more: The revolutionary power of the Black Panther

The story that follows takes a million twists and turns, seemingly working on the logic that modern audiences want more bang for their buck. (The screenplay is by Coogler and Joe Robert Cole; the film runs about two hours and 40 minutes.) It never occurred to anyone at the MCU’s helm that the truly revolutionary thing would be to make a film with fewer and better twists, which focuses more on the relationships between the characters than on throwing in one – two, or three – extra fight scenes. What if these movies were toned down a bit, trimmed down into something lean and powerful rather than just long? Wakanda forever is set in a world that many people are desperate to revisit – in the first film, Wakanda and its citizens were so alive that it’s no wonder they caught us. But Wakanda forever it feels very much like Marvel’s usual business, marred by the usual muddled action sequences and awkward plot mechanics.

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A scene from Marvel Studios Black Panther: Wakanda Forever

Courtesy of Marvel Studios

There are also a lot of extra pockets sewn in to make room for all the characters the audience expects to see, as well as some new ones. Lupita Nyong’o returns as Nakia, essentially T’Challa’s widow, but doesn’t get much to do. Martin Freeman once again plays CIA boy Ross; his story feels wedged in. Dominic Thorne stars as teenage super genius Riri Williams – she and Shuri form a relationship that is intriguing but barely explored. The film’s most compelling dynamic is the electricity between mother-daughter Ramonda and Shuri, but that, too, is disappointingly muted, despite Wright’s quick-witted charm and Bassett’s under-the-surface warmth.

Read more: Chadwick Boseman, who has died aged 43, brought joy and taught us about ourselves. All this while quietly fighting for his life

When the Black Panther returns at the end of the story, the picture briefly comes alive. (Again, Carter outdid herself with the suit, a matte black suit speckled and speckled with metallic gold and silver, sort of a 1930s Art Deco look filtered through the 1980s Throne sensitivity.) Wakanda forever is clearly designed to be “for” grief. But that doesn’t mean it deals with grief in a particularly deep or meaningful way. This must have been an incredibly difficult film to make for the obvious reasons: how does a director and his cast carry on after losing such a dazzling colleague? But checking boxes isn’t the same as pulling magic—or even just insight—out of thin air. The picture’s most exciting moments come towards the end, where we get brief glimpses of Boseman as T’Challa. In those few seconds, it emits everything that is missing Wakanda forever. The sad reality is that the show must go on and it’s just the same without him. Our job is to pretend it’s enough.

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