By Jason Delgado
Sequels have always been a difficult proposition. How do you recreate the magic of capturing lightning in a bottle, while offering something familiar yet new at the same time? That’s why the massive success of Marvel has been so historic: they have managed to do this time and again. That is, until Phase 4 of their master plan.
Most MCU films throughout the first 3 phases were amazing, with the occasional dud (Iron Man 2), but now the inverse is true for Phase 4. Spider-Man: No Way Home was fantastic, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness was good, and the rest have been uneven to say the least. Unfortunately, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever fits into the latter category for me.
After attending the emotional Marvel SDCC panel for the film this past July, I was beyond excited to see this movie. Ryan Coogler is a fantastic director, but this is not the first time that he has had trouble making a satisfying sequel. Creed 2 was not up to the same quality of the first film (although part 2 is not a bad film), which is understandable, since the bar was set so high.
Talking about high bars, the first Black Panther film was a Best Picture nominated, cultural milestone. Chadwick Boseman is one of the greatest actors of our generation. To make a follow-up movie without the deceased icon was already starting at a humongous disadvantage, so the plot needed to be fantastic.
Unfortunately, the story of Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is subpar to me. I care about the government trying to regulate Wakanda about as much as I care about trade federations in the Star Wars prequels (which is to say, not in the least), because we all know that Wakanda has the power to do what they want, even without the Black Panther.
I was also looking forward to seeing Namor up on the big screen for the first time, and while actor Tenoch Huerta did an amazing job with the emotional touches, I did not see the character that I have loved in the comics since I was a kid. Namor has always looked more Vulcan-like, which the makeup artists easily could have achieved with the eyebrows and hair, if it had been a priority. More importantly, the menacing aspect of the character was MIA, other than the score telling me that I should be afraid. Huerta was excellent at being conniving on screen, but there is a difference between that and a truly fearsome villain with some humanity behind it all.
The final battle was quite anticlimactic, partly for the reason above, and also because the script did not spend enough time to get the audience to care about Shuri (other than using sympathy) this time around. Additionally, I did not perceive her to be a truly powerful character. Riri Williams was so underdeveloped that she was essentially a throw-in character, without whom the movie easily could have been made.
I wanted the emotions to flow from an amazing story that would tap into our natural grief for Chadwick Boseman. Instead, the script felt almost as wooden as the aforementioned Star Wars prequels. There was a contrived moral dilemma for Shuri near the end, but it was too little, too late. It was also a colossal, missed opportunity to have the Black Panther character die offscreen during the opening of the film. The filmmakers could have had him die during an act of heroism, which would have been much more worthy of the character, and dramatic for the audience.
It felt as if the film was rushed, without the usual Marvel quality. Alan Ng from Film Threat states that he saw some glaring issues with the movie being shot at the height of the pandemic. The CGI was noticeably bad in spots, the actors stayed socially distant, and they were careful not to fill the screen with too many people at once (besides crowd-filling through the use of special effects). Ng also said that he noticed that the same small actor clusters stayed together for the most part, presumably as a health precaution. All of these factors play a part, either consciously or unconsciously, in what viewers see on the silver screen.
At a runtime of two hours and forty minutes, the movie was too long and slow. My anticipation for this film quickly gave way to boredom and sleepiness. I wanted something spectacularly Oscar-worthy to wow us all, especially for Chadwick, and this was not achieved. However, the little tributes to Boseman in the movie were a nice touch.
I give Black Panther: Wakanda Forever two and a half hot sauce packets out of five. It wasn’t legendary enough to live up to the scorching legacy of the ancestors.