Black Panther: Wakanda Forever – Beautiful but Oddly Unsatisfying (2.5*)

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever starts with the death of the former Black Panther and moves through nearly three hours of sometimes beautiful, sometimes action packed, scenes but with so many obligations to fulfill that it is ultimately unsatisfying.
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever – Snapshot


Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is a sequel and an entry in the MCU juggernaut of comic book super-hero films.  It starts with the death of the former Black Panther and moves through nearly three hours of sometimes beautiful, sometimes action-packed, scenes but with so many obligations to fulfill that it is ultimately unsatisfying.

Where to Watch:

Stream: Disney+

Rent: Redbox/YouTube ($6) or wherever you get your disks

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever – The Oscar Buzz

Oscar Nominations:

Supporting Actress (Angela Bassett)

Costume Design (Ruth E. Carter) WINNER

Makeup and Hairstyling (Camille Friend/Joel Harlow)

Visual Effects (Baumann, Hammack, White, Sudick)

Original Song (“Lift Me Up”, Rihanna/Coogler/Goransson)

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever brought home the Costume Design Oscar this year, as it did in 2019 for the first Black Panther.  And while the first one was nominated in seven categories, including Best Picture, and took home three wins, this year’s Panther received only five nominations and did not make the Best Picture list. The Makeup & Hairstyling nomination was well deserved, but the Visual Effects were, frankly, pretty standard for an MCU film and while I appreciate Rihanna’s effort to memorialize Chadwick Boseman, I don’t quite get how the lyrics accomplish that.  The melody is, though, very appropriate as a funeral song (although it doesn’t appear during that sequence).

It did, however, get a nomination for Angela Bassett in the Supporting Actress category.  Ms. Bassett, in this movie, plays the Queen of Wakanda in a powerful performance.  Her previous Oscar nomination was almost 30 years ago for the leading role in What’s Love Got to Do with It, where she plays the iconic Tina Turner (who died this year).  She has an MFA from the Yale School of Drama and has appeared in countless films, almost always as a strong woman facing daunting crises.  Her performance in this film serves as a pivot for everyone else as she leads what is, probably, the most powerful nation on earth. (Watch carefully her speech to the UN ambassadors early in the film which establishes her authority.)

Overall, the nomination pattern earns this film a 7 in my Oscar Quality Index with one major nomination and one minor win.  That puts it ninth in the list of 25 general interest films, tied with Triangle of Sadness, Avatar: The Way of Water, andWomen Talking.

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever – The Movie’s Family Tree

The Following Movies Share Talent with This One 

(and if you like these films, you might like this one):

Black Panther (18) :  Director/Writer (Coogler), Co-Writer(Cole); Composer (Goransson); Editor (Shaver); Production Design (Beachler); Costumes (Carter); Makup (Harlow); Visual Effects Bauman/Hammack/Sudick); Actors (Wright/Nyong’o/Gurira/Duke/Bassett & multiple others)

Creed (15) Director/Writer (Coogler); Composer (Goransson); Editor (Shaver); Production Design (Beachler)

Fruitvale Station (13) Director/Writer (Coogler); Editor (Shaver); Production Design (Beachler)

Judas and the Black Messiah (21) Producer (Coogler)

12 Years a Slave (13) Acting ( Nyong’o)

Amistad (97), Malcolm X (92) Costumes (Carter)

Star Trek (09), Star Trek Beyond (16) Makeup (Harlow)

Deepwater Horizon (16)/Rise of the Planet of the Apes (11)/The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (12) (and most of the MCU films) Visual Effects (Sudick/Hammack/White)

(The characters and actors in this film also appear in other MCU films.)

If you liked the original Black Panther as much as I did, then you will automatically be inclined to watch this sequel.  Starring almost all of the original actors, helmed by the same director, and crewed by almost the same group, you have a right to expect an excellent follow-up.  And, if you are an MCU fan, you also have an expectation that this film will add to the unfolding and extremely complicated story of that universe. (More on that below).

But, as life has it, events intervened.  The original Black Panther, Chadwick Boseman, died unexpectedly  just as this film was to go into production.  (More on that below, too!).  Unfortunately, the creative crew on this film were unable, really, to reconcile the first film with the death of the actor portraying the main character.  If that isn’t enough to screw things up, there is the additional corporate climate to keep the character, and the overall story arc, within the incredibly complicated MCU matrix.

The result is a film that, although beautiful in many respects, doesn’t command the emotional support that the first one generated – the movie has too many demands on it to actually succeed.  It can’t pay homage to one of their beloved team members, continue the Marvel comic book structure, and create a satisfying movie experience all at the same time.

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever – What Others Think

I’m not the only one disappointed with this movie.  Despite the fact that it has grossed $859 million at the box office, it is still way behind the original movie.  Out of this year’s 25 general interest movies, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever ends up smack dab in the middle based on audience ratings.  

Critics are even less impressed placing this movie 17th out of this year’s 25 competitive movies.  They have listed as reasons many of the criticisms I pointed out in the last section. Robert Daniels (RogerEbert), wrote “Some limitations aren’t within their control, such as the tragic death of Boseman.  Others feel like a capitulation to assimilate into a movie-making machine.” Jeffrey M. Anderson (San Francisco Examiner) was supportive of a Boseman eulogy, but “in the end, it’s difficult to recommend Black Panther: Wakanda Forever in terms of pure popcorn entertainment, or even as a film that compares to Black Panther.  It doesn’t.  It can’t. …”.  James Berardinelli (ReelViews) wrote that the film was “ overlong blockbuster in search of an editor.”  Anytime you see a reference to bad editing, you should beware.

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever – Special Mention

In addition to crafting a superhero action film, something many other films have done more successfully, this film had some special goals that layer additional burdens on the filmmakers.

The Death of Chadwick Boseman – Everyone loved Chadwick Boseman – his costars, his directors, and his fans.  As the original T’Challa (The Black Panther), Boseman was able to show that Black people could be superheros too.  Many a black child was thrilled by his performance by a man that “looked like” them.  Boseman’s character was a key driver to the movie’s box office success bringing in $1.3 Billion in sales. 

Boseman was born in South Carolina and attended Howard University where he had the honor of escorting Angela Bassett on her campus visit.  He attended a summer acting academy at Oxford partially paid for by Denzel Washington.  In his short film career he played powerful Black men such as Jacki Robinson (42), James Brown (Get On Up), and Thurgood Marshall (Marshall).  Two of his last films before his death were Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom and Da 5 Bloods.  He received an Leading Actor Oscar nomination for the first film.  In my review of Ma Rainey… I wrote  “Boseman’s character delivers a monologue about how God has abandoned him, as a Black man in a White world.  It is one of the most passionate and emotionally draining expressions of rage that I can remember….  His nomination for the Leading Actor Oscar is well deserved.”  Of Da 5 Bloods I wrote “Chadwick Boseman, in his next-to-the-last film before his death, plays a larger-than-life character whose Vietnam-era stature is as heroic as his T’challa roles in the Marvel films.”  In short, Boseman was an important Black actor and one who had a promising and important future as a movie actor.

But what few people knew is that he was diagnosed with colon cancer in 2016 and fought that battle to the end in 2020 at the age of 44.  I suppose you can debate whether an actor, especially in a movie with sequel potentials, should reveal potential problems like that, but Boseman chose to keep it very quiet.  And so, when he finally lost his battle, the impact was huge.  The script for Black Panther: Wakanda Forever had already been started with the assumption that he was, again, the key character.  With his loss, there were major story elements that had to be completely redeveloped.  Additionally, it seems that Boseman was able to command the respect, loyalty, and friendship of most, if not all, of the people he worked with.  As a result, there was a very strong feeling that this movie had to also serve as an eulogy to Boseman – a memorial to his death, and a celebration of his life.  Those demands on this film are obvious in the first few minutes of the movie.

The Marvel Comic Universe (MCU) – If paying tribute to the leading actor and namesake character isn’t enough, then the movie is also constrained by having to play its role in the hugely complex, but financially rewarding, juggernaut known as the MCU.  Now mostly a Disney enterprise, the MCU was originally based on comic book characters envisioned by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby starting in the 1940s.  

The movie versions didn’t really start until 2008 with Iron Man. The movie was such a commercial success that it became the first of 32 movies, so far, with a dozen more already scoped.  The films are organized into two sagas (Infinity and Multiverse) and there are three phases in each saga.  Phase 4 – the beginning phase of the Multiverse Saga – began in 2021 with Black Widow and concludes with this film, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. Phase 5 began this year and Phase 6 doesn’t end until some time in 2027!  (I’m not making this up.)  The MCU is the highest-grossing film franchise ever,  earning nearly $30 Billion at the box office.

Populating these films is an entire world of characters.  Wikipedia has a chart that seems to go on forever outlining each character.  I’m willing to bet that there are websites where you can find all the information you want about each one, including their secret powers, loves, and most famous quotes.  Unfortunately for some, not all characters are owned by the same filmmaking studios.  So there are very complicated rules for when one character can appear in another studio’s movie and what kind of role that character can have.  

In short, this is a very difficult puzzle and a film is not only bound by the imagination of the director and writer, but is also constrained by boundaries imposed by this huge creative and corporate behemoth.  Anyone doing a movie in this world must serve multiple gods!

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever – Michael’s Moments

The first 6 minutes of the film is, mostly, a memorial to Boseman and displays real emotional feeling.  It also reacquaints us with the beauty of the Wakandan culture.  An interesting, and beautiful,  choice in the film was using white costumes as funeral garb – it is strikingly appropriate. 

The next fifteen minutes are consumed with Queen Ramonda (Angela Bassett) arguing at the U.N., that the leading nations (basically, US and Europe, all represented by white people) aren’t mature enough to be given vibranium the mineral at the source of Wakanda’s power.  The whole scene paints the leading nations as bumbling idiots and she makes her point vividly when she brings in the culprits who attacked her vibranium sources at the point of spears.  Despite protestations to the contrary, it was impossible to deny that the perpetrators came from the very same countries denying responsibility.  

This scene, plus the next one at sea on a vibranium mining platform and another one at the M.I.T. Campus in Cambridge all paint the U.S. and, by association, the rest of the world powers – pretty much all white – as rather pathetic, disloyal, and bumbling idiots.  Now don’t get me wrong, there is a lot of truth to that, but the sense coming from this movie is that first-world cultures are pretty much bombastic, pretentious, and, ultimately, weak!  I will get back to this below.

At the thirteen minute marker, the next extended scene is back at Wakanda where it is now one year after T’Challa’s death.  The music, costumes, makeup & hairstyling, and the design of the Wakandan environment all use familiar elements from the first Black Panther.  But, although it did score some additional points in hairstyling, it didn’t add much else to what we already knew about Wakanda from the first film.  The first Black Panther was visually and sonically unique and immersed us in an African, Black culture that is rarely presented with such rich details in grace and beauty.  Part of the original movie’s charm was in how it took African rhythms and patterns and modernized them to a deserved place at least as equals to other cultures and, in the case of Wakanda, technologically superior.  The presentation was beautiful and somewhat startling at the same time.  But that sense of surprise is missing in this film – possibly because the filmmakers were just too overwhelmed with other obligations.

Slowly, though, we get reacquainted with all the returning characters, mostly women.  Even in the first Panther, women seemed to play at least an equal role.  In Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, after T’Challa’s death it seems that women are totally in charge.  I actually think that sequence, lasting about fifteen minutes, was really intriguing because it elevated Black women to a position of control and power that isn’t seen very much in our real world – it was a welcome vision.  (More on this at the end of this review!)

Apparently it was part of the Phase 4 design, that Black Panther: Wakanda Forever was to introduce another character into the MCU, Namor (or K’ulk’kan).  (Note: I have no idea if the original comic books contained a character of this name, but I believe they did include references to an underwater creature associated, possibly, with a culture something like Atlantis).  Namor is a “mutant” who has superpowers, one of which is that he can fly at incredible speeds, powered by four tiny wings on his ankles.  (He also can hover in the air when he raises one leg in a pose that is borderline ridiculous.). Namor is introduced almost exactly at the one hour mark in this film and there is a five or ten minute series of portrayals that tie this culture to the ancient Mayans (and possibly the Aztecs) and how they went underwater to escape the scourge of smallpox wielded by the Spanish, white, conquistadores.  (It is pretty well established that white men conquered the Americas not with superior force and intellect, but rather with their insipid diseases that they seemed to carry with them wherever they went into clean environments that had little worry of germs until white men brought them).  So, to escape the diseased surface world, Namor took his followers underwater and built a hidden kingdom and culture for the Talokans.  That world, as portrayed in this movie, is seductive and beautiful and is the only real sign of creativity in this movie.

So, all of this is introduced in the first hour of the film.  You can now see why A.O. Scott (New York Times) wrote “If this sounds like too much plot summary, that’s because Black Panther: Wakanda Forever has too much plot.”  To that I would add that it is trying to communicate way too many themes.  There is the conflict between first and third world countries, black versus white cultures, then black versus brown, then female vs male.  It probably shouldn’t surprise anyone that after introducing all these themes – any one of which could make for an entire, but probably unresolved, film – this one adds all this to the additional requirements of paying homage to Boseman and ending the MCU Phase 4 story line.  Even in the remaining hour and a half, you can’t possibly expect all of those threads to be wound into anything resembling a consistent fabric.  This is an impossible movie and should never have been attempted as designed.

Finally, I need to express my chagrin at the plot decision to make the major conflict in this movie between blacks and browns.  After painting us whiteys as pretty much a total loss, I suppose it is natural to construct a conflict between people of color.  But, I find that that idea lacks a moral backbone – colored people do not, ultimately, have a conflict within themselves.  Instead, their battle is with us white folk who have collectively benefited greatly by exploiting them all.  Despite Director/Writer Coogler being Black, this film really just furthers the “white nation” strategy of stimulating conflict between colored people. Instead this movie should have engineered an alliance of Black and Brown against the white power structure that has enslaved their people and destroyed their cultures.

Oh, and I have decided not to go into a full-on discussion of the sexual politics of this film. Let’s just say that I was thrilled with the idea that a Black Woman could become the next Black Panther.  But if you think that is a terrific idea, then you need to make sure you watch the full credits – the MCU has its own rules.

Although beautiful in places, this film is a disappointment.  (2.5*)

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever
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1 thought on “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever – Beautiful but Oddly Unsatisfying (2.5*)”

  1. What a thoughtful, beautiful, thorough analysis of this movie & its many layers.
    I appreciate all the time & research Michael put into this amazing review!


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