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‘Black Panther 2: Wakanda Forever’ review: Pretty flawed, but also pretty good

Carljoe Javier

This is AI generated summarization, which may have errors. For context, always refer to the full article.

‘Black Panther 2: Wakanda Forever’ review: Pretty flawed, but also pretty good

A scene from Marvel Studios' Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios. u00a9 2022 MARVEL.

Courtesy of Marvel Studios

'There are things that could easily be criticized about it, but it does so many things that held my interest and that made me keep thinking'

Black Panther 2: Wakanda Forever is, obviously, one of the most highly anticipated films of the year. And because of all that buzz, you’ve probably already made some decisions, and this review won’t change your mind. But hopefully, I can give you some thoughts to chew on. 

First off, if you’re planning to see it, then you’re probably already scheduling your viewing, if you don’t have your ticket already. And then, of course, there’s the subset of people who seem predisposed to dislike superhero movies now that they are the hegemonic creative structure of global film. Then we’ve got people who hate diversity. And the people who kind of just want Marvel to fail. And the people who have made “Phase 4 sucks” as part of their personality. Basically, everyone has an opinion. 

So here’s mine. 

It’s pretty good. It’s pretty flawed. But it’s pretty good. 

What I could sense as the film progressed was that it really felt like two, if not a number, of smaller films kind of smashed together. 

Between the first film there have been a slew of Marvel movies, series, animated shows, etc. More crucially, Chadwick Boseman tragically passed away. And we do get a Boseman-sized hole in this film. He brought a verve and lightness to Black Panther alongside that noble demeanor and undeniable cool. There was a joy to his performance, and to that first film, that is lacking here. 

But perhaps that’s by design. 

We begin with T’challa’s offscreen death, as Shuri (Letitia Wright) frantically attempts and fails to conjure up a cure. And this loss defines not only Shuri’s journey, but the feel of the whole film. I’ll avoid adding plot points and revealing characters where I can, but suffice to say that this isn’t the only loss/death that we deal with. 

In fact, as I watched, I could sort of feel that there were two movies I was seeing – the first was what had been planned by Ryan Coogler had Boseman returned. It’s a film about nationalism, national identity, and protectionism. Progressing from the idea that Wakanda is militarily the most powerful nation on Earth with its control of vibranium, we get a UN hearing where other nations demand access to the precious metal, and to weapons built from it. 

It’s revealed that, where it was previously believed that vibranium was only found in Wakanda, it’s apparently also found in the ocean’s depths. And there’s not just vibranium down there, but an entire human civilization. Similar to Wakanda, this civilization has progressed alongside but totally invisible to the rest of the world…until now. Complications ensue.

This would have been an incredibly interesting conflict, with the geopolitical ramifications of yet another nation showing up. More crucially, unlike Wakanda as led by T’Challa, which was interested in integrating into the world order, the new nation Talokan, as led by Namor (Tenoch Huerta Mejia), would prefer to destroy all other nations. 

Namor adds to the list of great villains alongside the first film’s Killmonger. Not only is Huerta Mejia’s performance top notch, but as a character whose last interaction with “the surface world” was defined by colonization and slavery, his view of humanity is understandable. You might not root for him, but you totally understand him. 

And if it were this, then Wakanda Forever would have had a nice, neat structure. Wakanda vs Talokan. Integration vs domination. Negotiated peace vs. all-out war. 

But we get more than that. The second film that seems grafted on top of that first concept deals with the loss of T’challa, and what that means for Wakanda and the various characters in the film. 

As a result the film feels uneven and sort of sprawling. Without T’challa/Boseman as a fulcrum, it seemed like it was trying to figure out what it could be or should be. There are all these different storylines that emerge as opposed to one more unified narrative. 

It’s easy to judge that as a flaw. And it’s inevitable to compare the sense of how the first film just centered on that one character and all these other characters in his orbit. In that sense we feel doubly the loss of Boseman, because it seems at times that even the movie doesn’t know what to do without him.

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And yet, even without that clear driving narrative, there are so many spectacular moments here, so many powerful sequences and performances. You look at the cast list and you know each of them will have a chance to shine. Where there were moments when my critical voice was kicking in and being analytical of, say, a narrative flaw or a slip in humor, a minute or so later I would be rewarded with something that would make me say, wow. 

While there isn’t any striking violence or brutality in this film, I felt the sense of the stakes. The body count here is insane. And not in the usual kind of Marvel CGI, giant-hole-in-the-sky, lots-of-people-dying-in-explosions kind of thing. Even though Wakanda and Talokan are supposed to be the most advanced militaries in the world, they fight in primal, hand-to-hand combat style, and so the implied brutality of the battles, incursions, and more have a visceral force to them.  

What’s at stake here, as is often the case in superhero films, is the fate of the world. But the handling of it becomes so personal. It’s rooted in loss, defined and advanced by grief. And the sense that even though people should be left to grieve, the world keeps interrupting and demanding things from them. The film’s willingness to sit in those moments, to have as much introspection and time to sit with it all, makes it very interesting. 

I suppose that’s where I would leave it, then. This is a very interesting film. There are things that could easily be criticized about it, but it does so many things that held my interest and that made me keep thinking. It’s willing to pull away from what we expect from a superhero flick, even though ultimately it gives us that stuff, too. Like I said, it’s far from a perfect film, but it’s way more interesting because of the things that it does or attempts to do. –

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