When we stop to watch a movie, a series, read a book, or play a game, we project onto it events from our own lives. Entertainment, beyond distraction, helps us process the real world and overcome fears and problems. This is taken to the extreme in works like Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, which have a strong connection to a real-life event. It’s a shame, though, that Marvel is so forward-thinking that it takes away the power of an important message in the present.
As could not be otherwise, the feature pays beautiful tributes to Chadwick Boseman, the main hero, who died of cancer in 2020. At more than one point, the theater was completely silent, save for a few sniffles from the more emotional ones. Loss and mourning leave the real world and become part of the story, showing how Ramonda (Angela Bassett), who has returned to the role of queen, needs to show the world that Wakanda remains a strong nation and sovereign of its resources, especially Vibranium.
The beginning of the film is strong with this premise and, going by the title, hints that the nation will be the main point of the narrative. The problem is that Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, like several other MCU productions, cannot be a movie on its own. At several points, it is noticeable that the story Ryan Coogler wanted to tell was paused for the introduction of some character that will be used in the future, or a line of dialogue that will make sense in some Disney+ series.
Sure, this has all been part of Marvel’s modus operandi for quite some time, and this criticism could be leveled at a number of the studio’s films and series. However, it hurts more in the case of Wakanda Forever, which needed to be a different film, to celebrate the legacy left by Boseman and say goodbye to the hero T’Challa. This is put into the film at powerful moments, but the message loses steam when the viewer is then bombarded by big action scenes and gunplay – which are even well executed, but add little to what the film was meant to be.
In its eagerness to balance a story of grief and overcoming with everything that needs to be established in the MCU, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever becomes long and tiresome, because nothing gets developed well. The Vibranium issue, which seems important at first, is quickly dropped; the plot involving Martin Freeman’s Everett Ross could easily be cut from the film, and even the nation of Wakanda appears little, even though it is the title of the production.
The motto established by T’Challa is repeated at times, but there is little information about how the nation itself feels about the sudden departure of its king, for example. Instead, the feature needs to establish Riri Williams (Dominique Thorne), the future Ironheart, Namor (Tenoch Huerta) and his undersea kingdom, who the next Black Panther figure will be, and various other plots that, alone, could easily fit into another film.
In this confusion of themes, what stands out are the performances. Though she deserved more screen time to show her grief as a mother, Angela Bassett shines as Ramonda, as she shows the strength of a woman trying to hold her home (and nation) together after a great loss. Although it has a rushed presentation, Tenoch Huerta’s Namor has the layers needed to create a good anti-hero and Letitia Wright surprises in the role of Shuri.
The central point of the grief, because of the strong bond she had with her brother, the princess of Wakanda gets the most development time, and Wright surprises by evolving the character with each new event. The way Shuri deals with grief reflects a feeling of revolt common in those going through something similar. In trying to process her brother’s departure, the young woman becomes bitter, and seeks at all costs someone to blame for what has happened to her. The heartache becomes almost physical, and Shuri needs to get it out somehow, even if it is in the wrong way.
If it were 100% focused on that, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever would have all the elements to be one of Marvel Studios’ most exciting films. After all, grief is a universal thing, which is (or will be) part of everyone’s life at some point. But, unfortunately, not even a production with such emotional importance goes unscathed by the “grand plan” for the studio’s future. Easter-eggs are placed, post-credits scenes are shown, and even in opposition to the main message of the film, we end the session more worried about what will come in the future than about what we are watching in the present.
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