Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (2022)
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (2022)

Genre: Superhero Running Time: 2 hrs. 41 min.

Release Date: November 11th, 2022 MPAA Rating: PG-13

Director: Ryan Coogler Actors: Letitia Wright, Lupita Nyong’o, Angela Bassett, Danai Gurira, Winston Duke, Michaela Coel, Dominique Thorne, Mabel Cadena, Janeshia Adams-Ginyard, Alex Livinalli, Tenoch Huerta, Martin Freeman

 


 

W

hen King T’Challa dies from sudden heart failure (and an undisclosed illness), the kingdom of Wakanda is thrown into despair; Ramonda (Angela Bassett) returns to the throne as Queen, while Shuri (Letitia Wright) buries herself in technology to ease her suffering (Nakia [Lupita Nyong’o], meanwhile, has left the enchanted land to mourn in self-exile in Haiti). The superhero’s passing emboldens several of the U.N.’s member states to redouble their efforts in stealing Wakanda’s precious vibranium metal, but their attempts are perpetually thwarted by the cutting-edge society. Hoping to locate the valuable substance elsewhere, the U.S. government acquires the blueprints to a vibranium-detecting machine from young scientist Riri Williams (Dominique Thorne). When the device succeeds in pinpointing the prized resource on the Atlantic Ocean’s floor, it also unleashes the wrath of an underwater civilization, ruled by the god-like warrior Namor (Tenoch Huerta). Desperate to protect his people, the superhuman paladin determines to wage war against all of the surface worlds – including Wakanda – should Ramonda and Shuri refuse to join him.

The Marvel universe has become unwieldy in its expansiveness. This umpteenth chapter (but only a first official sequel for this character) attempts to pull things back into a more intimate, straightforward setting (despite an early scene of political discord as nations bicker over the terrorist-prone vibranium element), centered mostly around Wakanda, but it can’t remain perpetually grounded in the limited realisms of that specific territory. As various world leaders demand access to Wakanda’s resources, it’s difficult not to wonder why Captain Marvel or some other interstellar entity can’t just deliver an anti-vibranium or an equivalent material to balance out the situation. Out-of-this-world plights require out-of-this-world interference.

Unlike many of Marvel’s previous feature entrants, this one doesn’t directly involve other previously-known superheroes; but that doesn’t stop it from referencing their capabilities (apparently just anyone can build their own Iron-Man armor now) or embracing the innumerable problems of superhuman powers. As soon as a single character can behave in senselessly extraordinary ways, no one is safe from such spontaneous or random influences. And though the new villain does what typical James Bond baddies do – by explaining how he came to be and what he plans to do before actually manifesting terror – he’s yet another largely undefined creation. Is he invincible? Can he be weakened? Isn’t it possible he’s lying? “We will be very, very careful.”

All of these conveniently concocted scenarios – each with a timely solution presented shortly after a predicament is revealed – play out in the same way as the opening scene, in which it’s expectedly announced that the former king is no more. This is a story forced to be written around the sudden, unanticipated departure of the star, complete with unconvincing plot twists devised to undo the individuality of the original Black Panther. Curiously, this follow-up confirms that superheroes are easily replaceable; singular superpowers are just as easily duplicated when a writer determines such a necessity. In fact, every conflict feels haphazardly conjured, with counters comparably summoned with a handy montage. Even moral decisions aren’t based on doing the morally upright thing, but rather merely having the upper hand; here, power dictates total superiority, perhaps reflecting all of humankind in real life. It’s suspiciously opportune that the protagonists tend to be the ones who end up with prevailing firepower by the conclusion.

“The Black Panther is a relic.” Once again, the sets, costumes, jewelry, armory, and other ornamentations are the most visually interesting aspects (while the music is sensationally fitting); a fascinating culture is impressively established. But every time a character flies, poses in slow-motion, or dukes it out with CG-augmented athleticism, the imagery becomes foolish (some of the war sequences look like shots that will surely arise in this year’s “Avatar” sequel). Yet there’s a severe clash between science and religion (legends and fables) here, where personas utilize exceptional technology to accomplish the unthinkable, before retreating to quiet spaces to engage in primitive rituals and ancient traditions, and to embrace spiritualism. It’s strange to think that plain humans who witness alien invasions, as well as the defense of such incursions by extreme technological innovations, would still cling to mythology so unwaveringly. Science, possibly, explains the Hulk, but no amount of science can articulate Thanos’ cataclysmic snap.

The attention to technology is both amusing (save for the troublesome disregard for water pressure issues, speaking while submerged, and the questionable need for so many oxygen-filled underwater chambers) and aggravating, considering that it’s used so often as an excuse to deal with dilemmas. The pattern of identifying a quandary, then whipping up a hi-tech answer, grows maddeningly frivolous – especially over the course of 160 minutes. Mirroring virtually every other superhero flick, it makes the premise inconsequential. This one is even more irritating, since by the closing moments, nothing has actually been resolved; the potential for the exact same antagonist to repeat the exact same conquest remains. A scene or two of believable human emotions helps to generate a fleeting gravity, but superhero factors always try their hardest to invalidate them. And “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” is one of the least humorous of any of the Marvel pictures, which certainly doesn’t help in making any of the sizable cast appear genuine or nuanced; amid the uninspired spectacle, no one here is having much fun at all.

– The Massie Twins

  • 4/10