All week, I've heard people talk about going to see the sequel to the 2018 box office hit, Black Panther, and like everyone else, I was scared for what the movie has to offer, especially with the tragic demise of its headline actor.
'Black Panther: Wakanda Forever' is a beautiful ode but falls to cliché storytelling tropes [Pulse Review]
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever pays a lot of attention to honouring Chadwick Boseman and King T'Challa, and that is where it almost falters.
The loss of the Black Panther actor, who not only acted as the movie superhero on screen but also brought the Black Panther character to real life, posed a serious threat to the movie's success. We could tell that this wasn't Ryan Coogler's first choice of story based on the post-credit scenes from the first movie. Given the circumstances, this may be the best they could do given the dilemma of having to produce another piece, especially on time.
The sequel is prompted by the blow that was dealt to the production, both on and off camera. While the actors deal with the grief of losing their co-star and friend, Wakanda has to deal with the death of its king and protector. So, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is a story about grief, pain, and how to deal with it, but it doesn't hit home.
Shuri's (Letitia Wright) frantic attempt to revive her brother T'challa marks the start of Wakanda Forever's melancholic narrative. The scene is so potent and moving that it sends chills down the audience's spine. I could already hear sniffles filling the theatre as Queen Ramonda (Angella Bassett) entered to announce T'Challa's passing, and I knew I was in for an emotional ride.
The scenes that followed bear much testimony to this, as T'Challa's funeral threatened to raise the emotional stakes of the film. Yes, this was accomplished, thanks in large part to the efficient use of costumes, sounds, and production design, as well as slow motion and captivating visuals. One thing stands out: When Queen Ramonda looked at T'Challa's photo next to the drummers, her suffering and grief were obvious. Wakanda was in mourning, as were we, the audience
In Wakanda Forever, Namor (Tenoch Huerta Meja), the King of Talokan, an undersea tribe, issues a new kind of threat to Wakanda, warning it to supply a scientist who created a vibranium-detecting device or face annihilation. Namor is worried about the interest the surface world has in vibranium, a potent ore that has been discovered nearby his underwater nation and is assumed to only exist in Wakanda. He travels to Wakanda in search of assistance, but his appeals go unheard, which sparks hostility between the two countries. The fight draws Shuri and a scientist into it, perhaps to divert her attention from her sadness.
The film dragged on about King T'Challa's death for far too long, leaving no time for the plot to develop organically. This makes the story feel like a cacophony of scenes placed against the backdrop of the MCU storytelling tropes. Wakanda Forever's events not only depart from the primary plot point, but they also fail to meet the expectations of good storytelling as it tries to fit into the conventional structure of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. There is nothing wrong with formulae; similar to clichés, they always work, but they may also be tedious and dull.
In Black Panther, we had a flawed hero and a nemesis of the same origin battling for something that mattered a lot to them, so when we see them at that big battle, it counts for something: these are two people trying to survive. Wakanda Forever makes an effort at this strategy by enlisting Namor, who seeks to join forces with Wakanda to wage war against the "outside" world. Here, you can see Wakanda Forever striving to force itself back to its original idea, from which it has deviated: White Colonialist vs. Black Survivorship, to put it simply.
The success of Black Panther, as opposed to Wakanda Forever, is attributable to the character-driven narrative. As a result, we are more likely to praise the overall quality of the film, the performances of the characters, and their performances as a whole than we are the world-building and stunning CGI.
However, given CGIs and epic fights are usual Marvel tropes and Wakanda Forever is now a victim. As a result, we don't care about any of the characters, not even the movie, because the plot's defining moments in Wakanda make both Shuri and Namor into caricatures who would let a thousand people die for an epic battle.
The worst choice a production team could make would be to use the death of Queen Ramonda as a catalyst to introduce Shuri as Black Panther. It is a desperate attempt to revive the Black Panther, who didn't need to come back alive—at least not with Shuri embracing the costume and character—not just because Angela Bassett is one of the best actors who has been able to keep the plot together. Letitia Wright is not big (both literally and figuratively) enough to fill Chadwick's shoes, therefore, if the Black Panther is going to return as promised in the post-credit scene of the prequel, the production had better found another cast to take on this role. The audience has paid to see the upbeat and vivacious figure from the prequel, not this uninteresting and sad character who has ostensibly experienced a lot both on and off-screen.
Black Panther left Wakanda with a sense of honour, pride, and duty; though fictional, we may have a vision of an African nation that works, but that pride is lost in Wakanda Forever. The epic battle at the end of this film doesn't feel like a victory but rather a pause in the trickle of events that are set to come.
Ryan Coogler is incredible, and his work on Wakanda Forever is admirable, but if all we have to applaud is the filmmaker's effort and not the movie itself, perhaps there's a need to investigate what went wrong. Once more, this might be the inevitable outcome. A Black Panther with Chadwick Boseman would have been different. Good kind of difference.
1 The costumes are amazing!
2. The world-building for Talokan is excellent
3. What was that Burna Boy song? I love Nigeria, but no!
4. Angela Bassett is superb and interesting to watch
5. Mbaku delivers the humour!
Critic's Rating: 5 stars out of 10
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