Based on the movie industry’s reaction to his premature passing, it’s clear Chadwick Boseman was greatly loved and respected. Those feelings are shared by anyone who loves movies as well.
So it’s natural that in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever a sense of loss permeates everything. In the opening, we’re told King T’Challa is dying. His genius sister, Princess Shuri (Letitia Wright), is trying to digitally recreate the purple flower that bestows power on the Black Panther, but she fails, probably because her 3D printers are only calibrated to make clothes that look like the orange netting they stretch across potholes.
Angela Bassett’s Queen Ramonda has no time to grieve, because she has to go to the UN to show everyone that diplomacy can indeed be done in solid gold chain mail. The issue at hand: now that Wakanda’s vibranium has been exposed to the rest of the world, greedy superpowers want it. For some reason, France is made the lead nasty here, which is like trying to make Albania the villain in a movie about Nazis.
We feel you, Wakandans, but we didn’t come back to your vibraniant land for sadness and politics, did we? We came for action, and the hot Wakandans who bring it. With both Black Panther and Killmonger gone, we’re left with an old guy who keeps a salad plate handy in his lip, and M’Baku, the mountain tribal leader who harbored the refugees in the first movie. M’Baku is a lot of man, but not enough to go around. We need more…Nay-more!
That’s right. This Wakanda movie introduces the Marvel character who lumped my teenage knickers even more than Wolverine – the Sub-Mariner, Prince Namor of Atlantis. They’ve changed his origin to Aztec Mexico and don’t refer to him as the Sub-Mariner or call him prince, but they’ve kept the most important detail – his tight green swim trunks. And his dangerous sexuality, which even in the comic books was oozing off the page. DC tried to bring this edge to their boring blonde Aquaman by darkening the waters with Jason Mamoa, but Marvel’s undersea god is not playing for snarky one-liners. He’s playing to get everyone wet.
Everyone except Shuri, unfortunately.
Namor wants Wakanda to join forces with his underwater kingdom of Talokan – which also has vibranium – to overthrow the humans on land, because he knows those French (?) and their western lackeys would wipe them all out to get the vibranium. Instead of doing a poll to find out that the majority of us land people would be fine with a world that looked like Wakanda and had a hot ruler who liked to show off his junk, Queen Ramonda and Shuri pass on the proposal.
After a skirmish on a bridge (where would action movies be without bridge fights), Shuri gets captured and taken to Talokan, which has underwater caves with air for the occasional non-gilled guests. Namor is an excellent host, giving Shuri gifts and clothes that aren’t made with a 3D printer, and telling her his tragic life story. I would have moved in then and there and dealt with having seaweed as my only vegan option for every meal. But boring Shuri is unmoved, and I’m baffled why the movie doesn’t want to create some sexual tension here. Maybe since Letitia Wright refused to be vaccinated for the production she couldn’t get close to anyone?
Ramonda brings Lupita Nyong’o’s character Nakia back from her teaching gig in Haiti to rescue Shuri, firing General Okoye in the process, who has done nothing but bust her ass for that royal family through like four films now. Time for you to go work for The Woman King, Okoye.
Everything comes to a head as Namor attacks Wakanda via river and the international superpowers jump in to get their vibranium. At least France has been sidelined, because Julia Louis-Dreyfus with a blue streak in her hair is much more intimidating. Her shady US operative that appeared at the end of Falcon and the Winter Soldier and Black Widow is back, but again, we barely get to enjoy her, as everything has to shift focus to who will be the new Black Panther, as if we didn’t know.
And after the missed opportunity for someone to make out with Namor because Letitia Wright – who is playing a brilliant scientist – doesn’t believe in science, we have to watch this same limited actress try to fill Chadwick Boseman’s shoes. The purpose of this whole outing was to get us fired up about a new Black Panther, and Wright is just not up to the task.
Though Ruth Carter has upped her already phenomenal game with both the Wakandan costuming and the whole new world of the Aztec-inflected Talokan, and the special effects on Namor’s movement in the air and underwater are great, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is a movie gasping for the air of originality and excitement that the first one had, and could have been saved with some mouth-to-mouth.
Predicted Oscar nominations: 5
Supporting Actress, Production Design, Costume Design, Visual Effects, Song