The road to Black Panther: Wakanda Forever has been rockier than the Denver Broncos’ prime time television performances – and in the end, has produced even more disastrous results.
Being the first Marvel Cinematic Universe film to focus on a predominantly black cast, 2018’s Black Panther was lauded by the media as a cultural moment for black people, with many heralding it as the best think to happen to them since the transatlantic slave trade ended.
This hype would eventually be reflected in the film’s subsequent success, as King T’Challa’s solo outing wound up raking in over $1.3 Billion worldwide and even netted Marvel Studios their first three Academy Awards.
In the aftermath, the House of Mouse was undoubtedly certain that they had a new, vibranium money-making franchise machine in their hands.
However, then something unexpected happen that left the entertainment world stunned: the Black Panther himself, Chadwick Boseman, suddenly passed away after a years-long and secretive battle with colon cancer.
With Boseman out of the picture, Disney was left in a predicament regarding how to move forward with the franchise.
Scrambling to salvage their plans, Marvel reacted by not only rewriting the entire film, but also shifting its creative direction.
In light of these changes, rumors began to mount that Marvel would have Letita Wright’s character of Shuri step up and replace Boseman’s T’Challa as the MCU’s new Black Panther. These whispers sparked outrage from nearly every spectrum of the fandom.
On one hand, some fans thought it a disservice to retire the character made famous by Boseman, sparking the #RecastT’Challa social media campaign and constantly trending the hashtag on social media in the years between the film’s announcement and its release.
Others took issue with the potential that Wright might lead take on the mantle due to both her sharing of a video skeptical toward the COVID-19 vaccine and her denying to take the shot, the latter of which resulted in a production delay due to the United States’ current requirement that all non-citizens be vaccinated in order to enter the country (Wright was considered a British national at the
To make matters worse, it wasn’t until three months ago that we finally got our first trailer for Wakanda Forever, and even then, the footage didn’t exactly set the world on fire.
Rather than sparking a massive wave of hype and excitement like its predecessor, it instead left audiences with two simple questions:
Would a Black Panther sequel that focused on the secondary characters of Wakanda rather than the title hero have any chance of being a major Blockbuster success? And would it be worth watching?
As Wakanda Forever begins, it is revealed that the King of Wakanda has passed after a mysterious and unknown illness proves uncurable by Shuri and his nation’s scientist.
In the wake of T’Challa’s death, his mother Ramonda (Angela Bassett) takes on the country’s royal mantle, serving as the Queen of Wakanda as the nation deals with the reality of a future without its sworn protector.
Meanwhile, Western countries around the globe have begun demanding access to Wakanda’s stockpile of vibranium, but Ramonda remains admant against allowing them to touch her country’s most important resource.
As a result, the CIA makes use of a vibranium-detecting machine to find an alternative source of the rare metal, eventually coming upon an underwater deposit just off the coast of Wakanda.
When a search team makes its way to the site to extract it, they end up slaughtered by Namor and his people – but thanks to the fact that their existence remains a secret from the rest of the world, the United States ends up beliving Wakanda was responsible for the attack.
With no protector, the world’s most powerful nation is then forced under the gun of a demanding world that wants answers and an underwater army they have no means of protecting themselves against.
I mentioned above that social media spent months begging Marvel to remove Wright from the movie because of her unvaccinated status.
Thankfully, those people were ignored, because her character of Shuri is the saving grace of an otherwise uneventful and confusing film.
Carrying the film to the best of her ability, Wright gives a stellar performance as Shuri, whose struggle with the loss of every member of her immediate family ends up being the only story arc in the film that holds any emotional weight.
Shuri is the only character throughout the entire film who has any semblance of a character arc and the film only ever really feels like a Black Panther movie when she’s on screen.
However, that’s about where the compliments end.
Outside of Shuri’s character arc, Wakanda Forever is a creative mess from start to finish.
Prime amongst the Wakanda Forever’s issues is that it’s a movie without either a protagonist or an antagonist.
The film’s marketing presents the story’s central conflict as a war between Wakanda and Talokan – a.k.a. Aztec-lantis – but ends up portraying the plight of Tenoch Huerta’s Namor as sympathetic, even giving him an origin rooted in protecting his country from resource pillaging outsider that’s very similar to the events that led to the birth (as seen in the first movie) of the ‘Black Panther’ role.
This lack of a character focus is only compounded by the fact that Marvel chose to kill off T’Challa following Boseman’s passing rather than recast him with another actor.
In the shadow of Boseman’s Black Panther, Wakanda Forever attempts to fill the gap left by his absence by putting a bunch of secondary characters front and center in the film’s narrative, but in the end none of them have a strong enough of a presence to stand out amongst the ensemble cast, much less lead the movie themselves.
Another weak point of Wakanda Forever is its central conflict, which makes little sense when forced under scrutiny.
Namor comes to clash with Wakanda because he blames them for revealing the existence of vibranium to the world and subsequently putting Talokan, which possesses its own significant reservve of the stuff, in danger.
However, the outside world wasn’t mining Talokan’s specific reserve of vibranium, but rather a deposit that simply happened to be located in the ocean.
Had Namor’s people not attacked and killed 30 members of the mining team to protect it, no one would have had any idea they existed.
Sure, the underwater kingdom may have eventually been discovered had nothing been done, given how early Namor had become aware of ths situation and his wherewithal to reach out to Wakanda for help, it seems that he could have easily asked them for help in hiding his nation like they did for so many years rather than just default to preemptively revealing his peoples’ existence.
Then there’s the fact that the film tries to portray Wakanda as simultaneously being both the most powerful country on Earth and a nation facing the very real proposition of being destroyed.
The movie itself even seems to recognize how far-fetched this idea sounds when taken in context of previously established lore, as in order to sell the concept, Wakanda Forever is forced to introduce an even stronger enemy in Talokan who just so happens to be the only power capable of standing toe-to-toe with the titular African country.
Another disconnect within the film’s story is the character of Riri Williams (Dominique Thorne), a.k.a. Ironheart.
According to the story, audiences are supposed to believe that Riri is one of the smartest women in the entire universe, as evidenced by her entering MIT at 19-years-old, creating a device to find vibranium, and building her own Iron Man suit over a period of two years using custom made and household parts.
But rather than actually showing us why she’s a genius, the film insists on just telling audiences that she is one.
The two inventions which brought her to the attention of the US, Wakanda, and Talokan governments, the vibranium detector and her Ironheart Mk. I armor, are created off-screen, with no explanation of how outside of “she just can”.
Even the creation of her final, cornrow-helmeted final suit is accomplished more through Shuri’s own technological expertise than it is Riri’s own engineering skills.
Instead, the film takes every chance it can to present Riri’s character as her character as a stereotypically sassy and foul-mouthed teenage girl.
It’s clear that the writers really wanted to recreate Tony Stark’s character in Riri, even going so far as to have Shuri serve as her ‘Bruce Banner’ and her first action sequence being a send-up of the original Iron Man’s final battle, but it’s this failure to adhere to the core concept of “show don’t tell” storytelling that leaves audiences unwilling to buy in to what the film is selling.
Wakanda Forever is also confusing from a visual perspective, as the lighting in the film’s first first two acts is so inexplicably dark that moviegoers will have a hard time making sense of anything they are seeing on-screen.
This tactic was undoubtedly used to hide the film’s poor CGI, which manages to be impressively low quality for the $250 Million dollar production budget – one of the highest for a non-Avengers Marvel outing – the film was afforded.
As evidenced by its bloated 2 hour and 51 minute run time, Wakanda Forever is a film that wants to do everything but ultimately accomplishes nothing.
At the end of the day, it is very difficult to recommend anyone give three hours ot the time on a film that attempts to cash in on the black community by riding the popularity of an actor who died in real life.
While it may not be Eternals bad, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is a film that hardly warrants a first viewing, let alone a second.
- Letitia Wright As Shuri
- Tenoch Huerta Mejía's performance as Namor
- Terrible dialogue & confusing storytelling
- Horrible lighting makes the film hard to see
- An unsustainable 161 Runtime