Friday 11 November 2022

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (Movie Review)

The fourth phase of the Marvel Cinematic Universe comes to an end with Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. This is after it had given us a string of movies and TV shows that, while they've worked to expand the universe in a multitude of interesting ways, have failed to give fans any clear indications of what the future holds for the multibillion-dollar franchise. So you can imagine the height of my expectations heading into the new Black Panther, which not only had to wrap up the current phase but also had to carry on Chadwick Boseman's legacy as the iconic character. But does the film manage to do either of those two things or was it bogged down by the weight of its own ambition?

The film wastes no time as it cold opens with a scene that addresses the death of the Wakandan King, T'Challa. And since this review is intended to be spoiler free, I would not be detailing the specifics of how his passing was handled within the context of the film. But his death would serve as a catalyst for the bulk of the story, as it immediately creates a power vacuum that Queen Ramonda struggles to fill, even as foreign nations threaten her homeland. The biggest threat though would come in the form of Talocan, an underwater nation ruled by the ageless king, Namor. So that when both nations find themselves on opposite sides of a brewing conflict, Shuri and the rest of the Wakandans must do whatever it takes to protect their people.

The first Black Panther film is to this day one of my favorite entries in the MCU, bested only by the likes of Captain America: Civil War. And that other film had itself worked as well as it did because it marked the introduction of both Peter Parker and T'Challa. The latter was portrayed by Chadwick Boseman, who had succeeded in infusing the larger-than-life figure with enough charm and charisma to endear fans. And over the course of his multiple MCU appearances, he'd grown to embody that character in more ways than one. So it was always going to be a herculean task crafting a new Black Panther film in the wake of his passing.

There are those that still feel the character should have simply been recast, after all, it wouldn't be the first time a prominent character is being played by multiple actors in the MCU. And while I understand why Kevin Feige and Ryan Coogler had ultimately opted not to do so, I'd be lying if I said that decision didn't end up hurting Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. For all of its ambitions, the film never manages to shake the feeling that there is something missing. It was in dire need of a lead that was strong enough to carry the weight of its plot on his or her shoulders. And even though the remaining members of the supporting cast had done their best in the situation they'd found themselves in, there is only so much they could do to fill the massive void left behind by Chadwick Boseman.

So given the direction they had decided to go in, it can be argued that the film works best when viewed as a tribute to both Chadwick Boseman and T'Challa. The film uses their absence to serve as an examination of grief as we watch how the Black Panther's death had affected those that held him most dear. All the actors gave heartfelt performances in that regard, though I was somewhat disappointed to find that both Nakia and M'Baku had been terribly underutilized overall, considering how great they had been in the first movie.

But perhaps that is understandable when you consider that the film also had to introduce a number of new characters, like Namor and the Talocans, and give them all the requisite character development they deserve. Another such character is Riri Williams aka Ironheart, who felt shoehorned into the story as a quick introduction ahead of her upcoming Disney Plus show. Her appearance here does very little to prime me for that show, but I guess it's also possible that I've just been watching these MCU movies long enough to see the gears turning behind the curtain.

Visually speaking, Wakanda Forever is a feast for the eyes and senses, with enough action to satisfy those looking for that specifically. And all of it is complemented by another stellar score from Ludwig Goransson, although much like Chadwick, Kendrick Lamar's absence is also acutely felt on the music front. It is also worth noting that those fans that had taken issue with the lighthearted tone in other Phase Four entries like Hawkeye, She-Hulk, and Thor: Love and Thunder would be pleased to find something closer to older MCU films here.

My biggest issue with Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, however, is how it doesn't address any of the events in the other Phase Four films. Even the first Black Panther film had felt like a logical follow-up to the events in Captain America: Civil War. This one by contrast functions as yet another standalone film that sheds no light on where the franchise is currently headed. It equally doesn't do a very good job of contextualizing itself with larger MCU events like the Thanos Snap, so we are left to come up with our own theories once again as to how its characters might have been affected by that.

As a tribute to the late, great Chadwick Boseman, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever works beautifully. But as the final film in the fourth phase of the MCU, it doesn't quite tie things together like I'd hoped it would. Nor does it even make any kind of attempt to do so. It is clear that Ryan Coogler and crew had made the film without knowing the significance of its placement in the overall MCU. Either that or the phases themselves have simply become meaningless delineators in a Post-Endgame MCU. So my advice to anyone going into the movie is to approach it as its own thing rather than another piece of a larger puzzle.


  1. You bring up some valid points as to why the movie just fell short. We saw it last night - good, but not great. I also felt the movie could've been shortened and they would've had a tighter, better film.

    1. You're right about the movie feeling too long. All the stuff with Ironheart, Valentina and Agent Ross were there just to tease upcoming MCU projects, and the film would've benefited if they'd left those characters out of the story.

  2. It's hard to keep up with these "Phases" but I think with What If, Spider-Man No Way Home, Dr. Strange Multiverse of Madness, Loki, and the upcoming Quantumania the next phase is about multiverses that could lead to a Secret Wars Battleworld type story. This doesn't really seem to tie into all that.

    Anyway, I know some people are just kind of burned out on the Marvel thing. I'm not really to that point yet but it's not really as exciting as it was.

    I didn't agree with recasting Chadwick Boseman in this movie but all the multiverse stuff provides the opportunity to recast in the future and they should probably do that.

    1. Secrets Wars is going to be bonkers but my fear is how they've been building up to it thus far, and all the other stuff with the Celestials not really appearing to tie into much else. But let's see what happens when Quantumania kicks off Phase Five next year.