‘Black Panther: Wakanda Forever’ is, by all means, a decent movie that just happens to falter in places when benchmarked against its predecessor.
One of the features that made the first ‘Black Panther' (2018) film stand out was its freedom from the obligation of having to weave the core of its story into the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). It was a refreshingly new story: a secretive and astoundingly advanced African nation derives its superhuman power from its custody of a super-metal, vibranium. Tribal hierarchies, rivalries, a family at the helm of power, and a common goal to fight white colonists gave this film its soul. Perhaps the only link to the film and the rest of the universe was the presence of Ulysses Klaw.
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Against that backdrop, you can’t help but wonder whether ‘Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (2022)’ is merely a conduit to fully integrate the franchise with that of its cousins in the MCU. For instance, there seems to be a contrived attempt at referencing the blip, Thanos, and wade into future films like Ironheart while planning for the future of the Black Panther itself — despite a decent attempt at taking the enigma forward after the death of the titular character at the very start of the film. You can’t help but feel that the magic of the first film may have died with Chadwick Boseman.
These attempts aside, the story of ‘Black Panther: Wakanda Forever’ is interesting, even if its screenplay leaves a lot to be desired. The film begins with tears. T’Challa, the reigning Black Panther, is dead after suffering from an illness, and his sister Shuri (Letitia Wright’s acting is praiseworthy) is ridden with the guilt of being unable to save him. Wakanda has reinstated Ramonda as queen, who must now fend off the West’s renewed attempts at securing Vibranium for itself while finding new ways to mine the metal from the ocean.
We are also introduced to whiz-kid scientist Riri Williams (Dominique Thorne) who has devised not only a vibranium detector but her own version of an Iron Man suit, to fight off the bad guys. Meanwhile, a new nemesis has arrived — Namor (Tenoch Huerta) leads an underwater Aztec civilization, Talokan, that not only has access to vibranium but is also keen on waging all-out war on the surface world as reparation for the bloody colonisation inflicted on their people. To succeed at destroying mankind, Namor and his Talokan people want to forge an alliance with Wakanda — an offer that is made as a threat as opposed to an equal partnership.
As much as Boseman’s absence is felt, the best part about ‘Wakanda Forever’ is also the absence of a widely acknowledged protagonist. The void has the potential for girl power to take centre stage in all its glory. It lives up to that expectation too as Shuri, Riri, Okoye and Nakia join hands to fight Namor (although one might argue that Lupita Nyong’o as Nakia could have done with a bit more screen space). The continuity element obligation comes to the fore here again, as the film seems to go to great lengths in order to establish Riri’s Ironheart story arc for future films.
Then, there’s your dose of emotion too. A cold opening followed by a silent montage of Boseman against Marvel’s branding is poignant and heartrending, as is another silent and tear-filled tribute to him towards the end. You feel Shuri’s pain as she mourns her brother, and the general air of loss in the film is ever-permeating. “Bury your dead, mourn your losses,” says a menacing Namor too, almost as if speaking to us, the audience. The film’s portrayal of grief in real yet artistic ways is its redeeming feature.
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While Shuri makes for a great Black Panther, even going so far as thrash the gender barrier of the character into smithereens, you can’t help but want more from the action sequences. Sure, Namor leaving the dark ocean to fight the Wakandans mid-air before he rips through their dragon flyers is breath-taking at the very least, but you can’t help but think that there’s so much more action that director Ryan Coogler could have drawn out of the film.
There’s the frustrating yet familiar lack of adequate lighting as we are introduced to some parts of the Talokan kingdom, located deep beneath the ocean (Select episodes of Game Of Thrones and House Of The Dragon were subjected to this criticism). Even still, the tapestry of Namor’s world is still miles better than the Wakanda we see in this film, which seems lacking in the futuristic and avant-garde architecture that came to define it in Black Panther (2018). In fact, some scenes even went so far as to show Wakandans, in everyday clothes, going about their daily lives like people in other countries and cities would — somehow shattering this image of an advanced race rooted in an indigenous culture that the first film established.
Don’t let these limitations put you off, though. ‘Black Panther: Wakanda Forever’ is, by all means, a decent movie that just happens to falter in places when benchmarked against its predecessor. A post-credits surprise goes a long way in bracing you for more action to come (conscious integration with the MCU, remember?) and you can’t help but consider the film to be a necessary stepping stone to hopefully better visual narratives as the years roll by.
(Edited by : Sudarsanan Mani)