BLACK PANTHER: WAKANDA FOREVER is an overstuffed disappointment that still serves as a touching tribute to the late Chadwick Boseman

BLACK PANTHER: WAKANDA FOREVER is a spectacle that is difficult to discuss. Everyone who is familiar with the name Black Panther knows that just over two years ago, Chadwick Boseman, the talented actor who played the titular character, passed away after a long and private battle with cancer. Boseman was a man who was almost too good to be true — both one of Hollywood’s finest actors and a humble, charitable figure who became a worldwide symbol for representation. There is not enough acclaim in the world to describe his impact, which is why WAKANDA FOREVER faces one of the toughest jobs of any film in recent history. Going into this movie, audiences will not only expect it to adequately fill the shoes of a larger-than-life superhero and continue the story of the fictional kingdom of Wakanda, but they will expect it to be a memorial for Boseman’s memory. 

WAKANDA FOREVER starts out with the latter, beginning with the news of T’Challa’s sudden illness and death, and showing the emotional funeral of the fictional, yet very real person we have come to know and love. This prologue is the best and most emotionally gratifying moment of the film, letting viewers mourn T’Challa’s death with the actors who personally knew him in a big screen setting with other fans. Nothing more could be asked of a powerful scene like this, and it is an emotional gut-punch of a way to start this two hour and 41 minute epic. Unfortunately for Ryan Coogler, the writer/director of WAKANDA FOREVER, he now has to craft an entire Black Panther film without his leading character, and thus comes the aspects of the movie that are difficult to discuss.

Preferably, I would only throw flowers on WAKANDA FOREVER for being a tribute to Boseman, but unfortunately the movie becomes an overlong and emotionally confused mess shortly after the emotional opening. Coogler opens up multiple subplots and emotional arcs that run adjacent to the grieving process of the Wakandan leaders, all of which feel stuffed into a narrative that badly needs a focus. The audience is introduced to an underwater sea kingdom led by Namor (a standout Tenoch Huerta), which possesses the powerful metal Vibranium — the same resource that sustains the nation of Wakanda. Alongside this, viewers are introduced to Riri Williams (Dominique Thorne), a brilliant scientist/college student who accidentally invents a device that detects vibranium, and are thrown into a complicated CIA subplot with Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ Valentina and Martin Freeman’s Everett Ross. WAKANDA FOREVER is packed with various flashy and action-filled subplots, all of which are empty and uninteresting compared to the emotional core that should have been the main focus of this movie.

Much praise has been showered over WAKANDA FOREVER for being a comment on grief and loss, yet I can only think of a couple scenes that effectively deal with this matter. The rest of the film is the typical Marvel CGI-filled nonsense that viewers have sadly come to expect from a film of this budget and caliber. The last few Marvel Cinematic Universe films (Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, Thor: Love and Thunder) have been forgettable and overloaded studio products that were more focused on setting up the universe than cherishing the emotional arcs within the movie. Given the circumstances behind WAKANDA FOREVER, the approach from Coogler should have been far different from other MCU films — and to the film’s credit, it does contain some emotional character arcs that have a beating heart. However, these characters rarely are given the time to fully cope with their emotions, and are instead replaced by pointless violence between Namor’s kingdom and Wakanda, two valid cultures that share core beliefs and ideals.  

Part of the issue with the main conflict in this movie between Namor and Wakanda is that the two cultures are equally justified in their anger towards the world powers. However, Namor’s kingdom is written as an evil, scary villain from a deep-sea horror movie for no particular reason. This Hispanic culture had fallen victim to the genocide of colonization hundreds of years earlier and is still grappling with this generational pain, yet our introduction to them is a scene straight out of James Cameron’s The Abyss in which they massacre a ship full of deep sea miners. They attack Wakanda, killing many of the innocent people of the nation that viewers have grown to love, and Wakanda attacks back, killing many citizens of Namor’s kingdom. Both of these horrific actions are treated as background noise for more pointless CGI fights, and the message regarding colonization and unity between cultures is lost along the way. Even near the end, the film depicts Namor’s kingdom as scheming and backstabbing villains, completely eviscerating any cultural unity or positive messaging to be salvaged.

When adding the fact that multiple compelling characters (Thorne’s Riri Williams and Danai Gurira’s Okoye, among others) are essentially forgotten about in the latter half of the film, and the fact that Martin Freeman’s storyline could be erased from this 2 hour and 41 minute film and nothing would change, WAKANDA FOREVER becomes yet another disappointing turnout from the MCU. This film is an especially devastating blow to the Disney-run franchise, because it proves that no matter how deeply emotional the circumstances behind the making of the film, the product will still be the same green-screen-filled content that audiences have received a million times before. Chadwick Boseman deserved a film that honored him for the incredible person he was, and while WAKANDA FOREVER accomplishes this in its first and last moments, it fails to deliver a story in between that successfully brings meaning to his absence.

Grade: C-

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