In several respects, I think we all knew as fans that BLACK PANTHER WAKANDA FOREVER would not – indeed could not – be the Marvel Movie most of us WANTED to see as the follow-on to the original “Black Panther’ movie. The unexpected death of Chadwick Bozeman almost FORCES this movie to be something other than the straightforward, high-energy continuation of the original story arc it’s safe to assume most of its fans hoped to see at the conclusion of 2018’s“Black Panther” … and so it is not. But it is an interesting and good movie in it’s own right, with all of the things we all expect in a Marvel superhero movie – action, familiar characters, tight and interesting story telling, sneaky humor – and in many respects it opens up the larger story of the Black Panther and Wakanda to the broader Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), which I suspect will be a good thing going forward.
The movie does have an air of sadness about it – the movie opens with Princess Shuri frantically racing to find a technological solution to her brother’s fatal illness, a fight she cannot and does not win. The Requiem portion of the movie, in which a deeply grieving Wakandan nation celebrates and buries its king while struggling to find a way forward, is a very well done piece of the movie, and sets the tone of – for lack of a better way to say it –the challenges and conflicts around the concept of FOUND BALANCE the primary characters will struggle with for the remainder of the movie. Angela Bassett does a true star turn as the now aged and sad Wakandan Queen Ramonda who must somehow contain her own grief, hold the hostile forces of the world at bay, and provide a lodestar to the grief maddened Princess. I should also note the movie tries hard to convey a passing of time since the first movie, of things that have happened … not just the loss of the King, and not even the Blip as they refer to the mind-numbing events around Thanos and his attack on the Homeworld. But of the passing of many things …
At this point, we are introduced to the ‘villains’ in this movie, Prince Namor and his Talokeans, a staple of the comics world but new to the MCU. Namor is the first publicly named MUTANT in the MCU (with significant implications for future movies one supposes!) and his Talokeans are a blue skinned race of modified humans – descended from the Mayans surviving in the Yucatan at the time of the Spanish Conquest – saved by a variant of vibranium influenced plant life, and representing a mighty but hidden undersea kingdom. In addition, the Talokeans possess vast amounts of vibranium, and to a vibranium obsessed world could potentially represent an alternate source of the precious mineral. Namor of course is determined to prevent his people being mistreated by the surface world, and he tries to force the Wakandans to both cover his actions to date – he has committed an act of war against the Americans for example – and do things he thinks he wants relative to the surface world. Queen Ramonda sees this as madness immediately, but isn’t quite sure how to handle yet another wrinkle in her world …
The interactions between Namor and Shuri, and the Talokeans and Wakanda, play out the challenges of FOUND BALANCE throughout much of the remainder of the movie. Namor, who has kept his people hidden under the seas for the last 500 or so years, has been isolated for so long he no longer knows HOW to find balance with friend or foe, and so he rushes to war. Shuri, who rejects the mystical side of her traditional culture in the rush of youth and her need to absorb all that she has lost at such a young age – a point made quite subtly by the Elder M’Baku of the Jabari tribe after the funeral of her mother – likewise does not know how to balance the blind rage she feels towards Namor and the Talokeans as anger and urgency becomes war and its ugly aftermath. There are a number of action scenes between the Talokeans and the Wakandas throughout the movie, and they provide more than enough of the high energy one normally expects – indeeds looks for! – in a Marvel movie!
In the end of course, the strength of Wakanda’s traditional culture, and indeed of the Black Panther itself, asserts itself in time to prevent disaster from occurring, and the madness of war is halted, with the promise of a tentative but positive alliance in place between the Wakandans and the Talokeans to protect the vibranium. This then gives the Princess Shuri time to process her own losses and begin her own healing process, as she realizes she must move to take on the mantle of the Wakandan throne.
The movie ends on a surprising and sad but overall, quite positive note. The door is left open for future installments.
I would note there were a couple of particularly effective performances worth noting. As mentioned above, Angela Bassett was simply outstanding as Queen Ramonda throughout the movie. Winston Duke brought a seriousness and depth to the M’Baku character that makes it clear he will play an outsized role in the story arcs going forward. Tenoch Heurta did an outstanding job as Namor, a difficult character and one who will play an important role throughout the MCU going forward. I should also note the Marvel people have managed to keep the humor rolling throughout this movie, even given its somewhat somber tone, and that provides a welcome relief through much of the movie.
If you are a Marvel Universe fan, “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” should not be missed.
This is a 4 Star Movie!!