Film, Film Review

REVIEW: Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (2022) dir. Ryan Coogler

A cinematic universe tries to entertain while grieving an icon

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We can all agree that the sudden and shocking death of Chadwick Boseman was one of the top ten craziest and most horrible things to happen in 2020. How could a true superstar like that just disappear overnight? His passing left Marvel Studios in an unenviable position. Boseman’s death meant King T’Challa had to die as well, but Black Panther was a cultural phenomenon. There HAD to be a sequel; Wakanda couldn’t simply vanish. This representation of an African nation free from colonialism was too important. Also, they have bald female warriors who can kill anyone with spears. They’re great. But what could Ryan Coogler do?

The answer, it would seem, is “try everything.” Black Panther: Wakanda Forever functions as a story about grieving a great man while also trying to introduce multiple new characters, locations, and Iron Man suits. The audience will be as overwhelmed as Shuri (Letitia Wright) trying to follow the geopolitical implications of this fantastical nation in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which has never been more unwieldy. Like every movie, it functions best when contained, but this is Marvel. They have to make Lupita Nyong’o say “Thanos” and totally take me out of the moment. 

Sometime after the events of Avengers: Endgame, King T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) has died of an unspecified illness. Following a genuinely moving Marvel Studios logo featuring only footage and images of Boseman, the plot sets itself up across the globe. Wakanda is hardly able to mourn their king, as world powers clamor for their Vibranium, a rare magical metal only found in their African nation. Or is it? After a mysterious attack on a mining rig, we learn that there is a secret civilization at the bottom of the ocean where fishpeople with Vibranium in their blood live far from human eyes. Their home is threatened, and their leader, Namor (Tenoch Huerta), has reason to blame Wakanda. The Wakandans can’t seem to catch a break, but Shuri and company will stand together to protect their country and their people no matter what.

Since I reviewed Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, there was a very bad Thor movie, an okay Ms. Marvel show, and a perplexing She-Hulk show. This film, while carrying a moving emotional throughline, does also feel like it’s setting up three more TV shows. We know Riri Williams, aka Ironheart (Dominique Thorne), is filming her own show right now, moving from human Macguffin here to protagonist. It sure seems like Okoye (Danai Gurira) is setting up to have her own adventures, and who knows what the plan is for Namor. He’s the best new character these things have introduced in a while, zipping around with his little hummingbird foot-wings. 

The further I’ve gotten from the film, the less sure I am that it holds together. While the climax does work, the other action scenes never come close to the original’s Busan car chase, though it is fun to watch these characters zipping around Cambridge. I know what bridge they were on! Unfortunately, I think I am just permanently exhausted by the Marvel cinematic experiment. How much longer do they think they can keep this up? This is basically how I end every Marvel review, but my point stands.

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever
2022
161 minutes
Dir. Ryan Coogler

In theaters everywhere Friday, 11/11 (though the Hassle, as always, recommends the Capitol Theatre or your local independently owned multiplex).

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