“The people of Wakanda fight to protect their home from intervening world powers as they mourn the death of King T’Challa.”

Director: Ryan Coogler
Writers: Ryan Coogler, Joe Robert Cole, Stan Lee
Staring: Letitia Wright, Lupita Nyong’o Danai Gurira, Winston Duke, Angela Bassett, Tenoch Huerta, Martin Freeman, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Florence Kasumba
Rated: PG-13
Release Date: November 11, 2022

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (2022) is the first Marvel movie I have seen since Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019). I was skeptical I would ever step back into the realm of these comic book characters, but five Oscar nominations and a front-runner for Best Supporting Actress got my stepping back into the murky over-complicated story waters. The story of Black Panther: Wakanda Forever off the screen is a journey in itself, and with regrettable yet predictable results, the tempest of production results in a movie that is poor constructed and remarkably uneven.

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever starts off going right for the emotions. They waste no time exploring the death of T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) and its direct impact on the kingdom and the family. Ramonda (Angella Bassett) is leading the hidden kingdom through its hardship, but the task for healing becomes even more difficult when a new world power rises from depths of the ocean to put everything Wakanda knows in jeopardy.

The starkest blemish on Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is that Letitia Wright can not carry the movie. Playing the role of Shuri, the new Black Panther and spiritual leader of Wakanda, Wright has all the weight on the world on her shoulders to try and bring the charisma that so many felt Chadwick Boseman had. Her shoulders can’t handle it.

It is as if Wright is acting with immense pressure on her shoulders. I mean i get it, the job of being in one of the culture’s most famous heroes shadow is not an easy thing to be saddled with, but the fact of the matter is that the presence on the screen is just different. Wright can not give the impassioned speeches with the same ferocity. Alright, you want an example?

When Shuri first drops down as the Black Panther and asks to speak with M’Baku (WInston Duke) alone, she pleads with him to unite the troops and protect Wakanda and fight against Namor and his kingdom. This is meant to be like Aragon rallying men to fight against Mordor at the Black Gate. This is meant to be like Caesar clamoring and getting his fellow primates primal.

There is none of that charisma. There is not of that je ne sais quoi. Shuri speech is spoken with more of a pleading tone than an earnestness. It seems a bit forced. Now this is not entirely Letitia Wright’s fault. Her reveal as the new Black Panther is also incredibly lackluster. There were zero goosebumps. There were zero Oohra moments. The build up was hampered by the checkpoints the story felt it had to make.

Letitia Wright as Shuri

You can tell that Black Panther: Wakanda Forever had a unique writing timeline. The step-by-step nature that the folder unfolds creaks like old wooden steps leading down to a dreary basement. You know when you are playing a racing arcade game and you have to reach a checkpoint before time runs out otherwise you lose? That is what watching Wakanda Forever felt like. It tells its story like a teenager learning how to drive going between the grass and the brake at intervals that would make a pirate ship carnival ride jealous. This teenage driving Marvel fan always realizes he needs to speed up to reach that next checkpoint, so rather than a steady drive its as bouncy as a dropping a half-open suitcase atop those dreary basement stairs.

The worst shoe-horned in moments of Wakanda Forever were the government agency connectivity parts. Poor Martin Freeman and Julia Louis-Dreyfus. Sure, they get a paycheck for playing Everett Ross and Valentina Allegra de Fontaine, but their characters are not necessary for the story of Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. I admit that I am not the foremost export of the Marvel cinematic/television expanded universe, but I can still notice when characters are inserted to progress a longer timeline. Just because you need to do (or feel the need to), doesn’t mean you get to give it a half ass effort.

For a movie that struggles with pacing and carrying emotional feelings throughout, why don’t you cut out these scenes during the theatrical cut and just make it a post credit scene reminding us that they exist?

Then there is the villain problem. Marvel has had this before. One can say it is Marvel’s biggest problem. It continues with Wakanda Forever.

Namor is the leader of a mysterious, warrior filled, oceanic race called Talokan. These water-based creatures have remained hidden and quiet…until now. Namor leads his group of warriors in an effort to keep Talokan safe at all costs, and their newest threat is humanity getting its hands on Vibranium, which would understandably lead to a whole host of military issues. The Talokan’s attack the humans, and their power becomes known. Their eyes are on Wakanda because they are harboring Riri (Dominique Thorne), the young college aged women who devised the technology to find the Vibranium. They want to kill her to erase all knowledge of the tech, but the Wakandans won’t let that happen.

Can we talk about how funny Namor looks with the little wings on his ankles? It is a funny look. There are a few close-ups on those cupid wings that made me chuckle.

The biggest issue I’ve got with Namor is that he felt like a carbon copy. The exposition dump with Shuri was more over-the-top than I would have expected. The evil Atlantis people, I really just didn’t connect with them at all. They emerged from nowhere, and they left no lasting impact on me. The biggest question I have about the Talokan is would they win in a fight against the Na’Vi?

Tenoch Huerta as Namor

Black Panther (2018) is held in higher regard than it should be, but my snobby ass brain can still acknowledge that Michael B. Jordan as Killmonger was pretty fucking fantastic. I even loved Andy Serkis as Ulysses Klaue in that movie. It says something about Wakanda Forever and Letitia Wright that when Michael B. Jordan shows up he absolutely dominates the screen once again. You know the je ne sais qoui that Wright can’t find? Mr. Michael B. jordan found it in his two minutes of screen time. Killmonger showing up in this movie was a great surprise, but it wasn’t the best surprise.

They actually killed Ramonda. They actually did that. It goes without saying that Angela Bassett is the best part of the movie. She is really good…not Oscar winning good…but really good. She carries herself like a heavy weight boxing champ and her speeches ring clear like a sound system turned up to eleven.With all of the positive attributes Bassett was bringing into the movie, it made it even more shocking with Ramonda is killed. It felt real and it added real stakes. I hope that the character had all her final leadership thoughts starring out all of her windows, because she did that a lot.

Angela Bassett as Ramonda

I have been hard on Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. I don’t think it is very good, but that doesn’t mean it is all bad. Besides Michael B. Jordan and Angela Bassett on the acting front, the movie itself looks good and has the science-fiction futuristic look that remains ideal for whatever modern cities may look like in the future. The visuals are admirable, but the sound is fantastic. The musical score by Ludwig Göransson churns throughout and has a clever mix of Mexican themes leaking throughout. I am not studier of music, but the sound sticks with me.

The issue is that even if Wakanda Forever looks and sounds good, not everything is linked together. There are scattered pieces littered about. The movie has been put through a massive sift because of strenuous events that transpired around it, and too many small missteps result in a less than filling viewing action movie experience.

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever made it on my watchlist because it was nominated for five Academy Awards: Best Costume Design, Best Makeup And Hairstyling, Best Original Song, Best Visual Effects and Best Supporting Actress. For myself, I would have nominated it for three awards; Best Original Score, Best Original Song and Best Supporting Actress.

At the 95th Academy Awards Wakanda Forever took home one Oscar for Best Costume Design.

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is streaming on Disney+.

STANKO RATING: D+ (2.0/5 Stars)

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