Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is now in theaters.
By Greg Wheeler
T’Challa is dead, killed by a virus off-screen. Wakanda is in a state of mourning. Other countries are desperate to steal Wakanda’s Vibranium reserves, and a new threat quickly emerges in the form of Namor.
Alongside Talokanil warriors, that are armed with hypnotic singing powers like Sirens, Namor shows up unannounced in Wakanda, needing help from Shuri and the Queen to save his world of Talokan. It turns out a brilliant scientist has created a device to detect Vibranium, and Namor wants Wakanda’s help to kill them to protect both their worlds. That scientist, however, happens to be Riri Williams aka. Ironheart.
Clocking in at a hefty 2 hours and 40 minutes, Wakanda Forever takes forever to get moving. Caught between being a jokey, bombastic Marvel flick and a somber, reflective drama about the effect of T’Challa’s death on the nation of Wakanda, the ensuing push/pull feel gives this movie a very uneven kilter.
While the threat to Wakanda and potential world-ending ramifications of Namor’s forces attacking are felt, it’s made that much more messy by the introduction of Riri Williams’ Ironheart. Although she’s nowhere near as insufferable as she is in the comics, her inclusion feels like an odd one and seems to only serve the purpose to get eyeballs on her upcoming series in 2023. In fact, you could easily tweak the story and remove her completely from the narrative, such is the weight of her narrative involvement here. And that’s before mentioning a repurposed scene from Iron Man she’s in, whizzing up to the upper atmosphere only to run out of oxygen and tumble back down to Earth again. It’s almost beat for beat the same!
The story is also littered with little contrivances, plot holes, and some genuinely eye-rolling segments. Namor’s introduction sees him flying in to see Shuri and the Queen with wings attached to his ankles. The camera zooms in pretty close to show this. 5 minutes later, Shuri exclaims “Did you see the wings on his ankles?” These moments of needless bites of dialogue pop up a lot and it becomes tiresome after a while.
More effective however is Shuri, who begins as an arrogant, argumentative, and angry young woman struggling to process grief through to a much more level-headed and well-rounded person by the final credits. However, she’s nowhere near commanding enough to amplify her position of power. Late on, she completely over-acts her line to Namor, booming “I am the Black Panther, and I am here for retribution!” In a way that feels like it was taken right from the cringiest parts of drama school.
The fact is, Angela Bassett is the best character in this by far, absolutely commanding the screen in almost every scene she features in. In fact, it almost makes one feel she should have been the next Black Panther instead!
Wakanda Forever attempts to do many things but at no point does it actually get its pacing right. The middle of this film is absolutely bogged down in a constant charade of snoozy monologues and long-winded scenes that could easily have been removed from this completely. Ironically, the more grandiose and expansive this film becomes, the less impact it has.
It’s incredibly frustrating because there is a good movie in here somewhere. If the film had centered on Shuri grappling with grief, and finding herself riffing with Bucky (who’s still a prisoner of Wakanda by the way but only referenced as “that white man” once), the film could have allowed the theme of grief to be properly explored in a format that doesn’t require undermining slapstick comedy or a big bombastic action piece at the end.
Aesthetically, Wakanda Forever does look pretty good, with Namor’s homeworld beautifully realized and parts of Wakanda and its traditional funeral rites absolutely stunning to behold. It’s a pity then that simple things like CGI beats (including Ironheart’s abysmal suit at the end) undermine this beauty. Not only that but the choreography is a mixed bag at best. A fight on a bridge during the middle of this movie is disastrously done, with the camera zooming in on a spear just missing a Talokan warrior… and then in the next frame showing that same spear on the opposite side sticking into the warrior’s stomach. These sort of clumsy goofs are not something you’d expect to see so prominently from a $250 million budget project.
Ultimately, Phase Four ends how it began – with a lot of underutilized potential. There are parts of this project that really shine but they’re overwhelmingly overshadowed by dull shades of grey that blanket this movie in a veil of mediocrity.
I give Black Panther: Wakanda Forever a C.