Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (2022): Marvel’s Phase 4 Ends with a Fine, But Not Perfect, Sequel

“Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” is directed by Ryan Coogler, who also directed the previous “Black Panther” installment. This film stars Letitia Wright (Sing 2, Black Mirror), Lupita Nyong’o (Star Wars: The Force Awakens, 12 Years a Slave), Danai Gurira (Treme, The Walking Dead), Winston Duke (Us, Person of Interest), Florence Kasumba (Wonder Woman, The Lion King) Dominique Thorne (If Beale Street Could Talk, Judas and the Black Messiah), Michaela Coel (I May Destroy You, Chewing Gum), Tenoch Huerta (Mozart in the Jungle, Narcos: Mexico), Martin Freeman (The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, Sherlock), Julia Louis-Dreyfus (Seinfeld, Onward), and Angela Basset (Akeelah and the Bee, Soul). This film is the sequel to “Black Panther” and follows Wakanda as its people attempt to defend their home from the king of Talokan, Namor.

I have always wondered what a “Black Panther” sequel could look like, especially given how successful the first film was. If you are Disney and/or Marvel Studios, there is no way you would just sit pretty after earning a billion dollars at the box office. Sure, you might pop a few bottles. But once you are done drinkin’, you must soon be back to grindin’. Although my wonder supposedly peaked towards the end of 2020. For one thing, the predecessor’s lead, Chadwick Boseman, passed away. This brought a gigantic question. What is going to happen to T’Challa?

On December 10, 2020, the world got its answer. During a Walt Disney Company Investor Day event, Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige announced that the character of T’Challa would not be recast and the sequel would explore other characters in Wakanda. While I am under the philosophy that actors can be replaced to a degree, I understand the tough decision that had to be made here. Boseman’s character was more than a guy who looked cool on screen, he was a symbol for the black community.

While there have been other black protagonists and superheroes on-screen, very few had the impact that Boseman’s T’Challa/Black Panther did over recent years. If you ask me, I liked the first “Black Panther,” but I did not love it. That said, I recognize there are plenty of people who do and I nevertheless celebrate how the film remains a symbol for a specific audience. I still remember where I was when Chadwick Boseman died, sitting in my room, browsing on my phone. While this may not be my first idea for a “Black Panther” installment, I like that the film went for an angle where art somewhat imitates life.

This movie dives into how the Wakandans live after the death of T’Challa. The execution of this is brilliantly realized and delivers certain segments of the movie that I consider to be phase 4 highlights. If I were to judge this movie simply as a tribute to Chadwick Boseman, I would give it two thumbs up. Unfortunately, there is also the rest of the movie. Some of which is solid, some of which is not.

“Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” is by no means a bad movie, but I think it comes down to the classic saying in regard to sequels. It goes bigger, but it does not make it better. It goes to new places, introduces new characters, but the execution is not as stellar as it could be. The first movie succeeded partially because of how it handled the character of T’Challa as a protagonist. As mentioned, he is not here for obvious reasons. Sadly, while the tribute to Chadwick Boseman delivered the feels, something was missing because T’Challa’s character was not replaced with another actor. What may have been missing is an escape. Because the first film at its core, even in its more dramatic moments, is fun. Kind of like the recent “Thor: Love and Thunder,” there are clashing tones that do not mix together all the time. This tries to be a traditional MCU movie with some of the flair of the original “Black Panther,” but falters because it unsuccessfully mixes this with a grieving process for T’Challa, and the actor who played him. This is not to say all of it did not work. Some happier moments worked. Some sadder moments worked. But I did not feel as happy or sad as this movie maybe wanted me to feel by the end of it.

It is time to talk about the villain, which in regards to MCU movies, are often considered a weakness. Thankfully, for the case of “Wakanda Forever,” Namor is serviceable. Although not perfect. While Namor had his moments, I think if you were to compare “Black Panther” and “Wakanda Forever” side by side, the first film clearly has the superior villain with Killmonger. His fleshing out was better, Michael B. Jordan gives a compelling performance, and I had a bit of an emotional attachment to him by the end of the film. Namor is threatening and there are some highlights with him on screen, but his motivation did not feel as prominent as it could have been. The best thing about Namor is how our heroes deal with him. There is a particular scene past the halfway mark into the film where from the heroes’ perspective, I got a sense of what they must have been thinking, what they were feeling. While 2018’s “Black Panther” did a good job at handling both the perspectives from the protagonist and antagonist, I think the former’s perspective was done better here than the latter’s.

A lot of Marvel movies, including good ones, often fail to deliver on the villain. I was not a huge fan of Ronan in “Guardians of the Galaxy,” but the movie nevertheless worked for me. But almost every time the film slips on the villain, I am still onboard when it comes to understanding and rooting for the hero. I feel like I am given enough justification to continue liking them, to keep cheering them on. “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever,” while its villain is not a dumpster fire, is no exception to this rule. That said, when I say that I am siding with the protagonist in this case, the movie comes to a decision as to who “the protagonist” is, but much of it does not resemble a centered story. There are so many things going on in this movie that until the end, it almost feels like there is no main character. There is ultimately a main character, but at times, it feels like there is not. The movie feels overstuffed, which I hate to say, because I liked some of the concepts in it.

For me, the highlight of “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” is Angela Basset. I liked Angela Basset in the original “Black Panther,” but her portrayal of Ramonda in this sequel is an improvement over the original in every way. Part of it is because the script gives the character a reason to perhaps have a more prominent presence on screen, and when it comes to the Wakandan society grieving over the loss of their king, I often connected with her based on her position in said society, in addition to knowing that her child is gone. Going back to what I said about art imitating life, Basset’s performance, alongside others in this film, came off as more than the characters going through their own reality. At times, Basset seemed to channel herself in regard to her connection to Chadwick Boseman. I bought into Basset’s performance, and as sad as Boseman’s death is, it may have enhanced Basset’s ability to deliver an excellent screen presence, one that could potentially be a talking point this awards season.

This movie is 161 minutes. Just over two and a half hours. At moments, I felt the runtime. Some of the exposition, specifically in regards to Namor, went on for way too long and I almost tuned out. In addition to being a “Black Panther” film, “Wakanda Forever” also somewhat doubles as an ad for Disney+ with the addition of Riri Williams, also known as Ironheart. Other than that, another notable flaw, and maybe this is just the case of my theater, maybe not, the sound mix was not perfect. There were select lines of dialogue that were hard to make out. It is not “Tenet” bad, but as far as the MCU goes, this is probably the first time I can recall having a problem like this during one of the movies in this series. Then again, I just turned 23 a little more than a week ago, therefore this is a possibly a sign that my hearing could be slightly deteriorating. Do not grow up, it is a trap.

If I had to compare “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” to anything else right now, it would have to be, of all things, the television series “Impractical Jokers.” …Hear me out.

“Black Panther: Wakanda Forever,” much like the most recent iteration of “Impractical Jokers,” loses one of its core cast members, tries to reinvent itself while also keeping certain elements audiences are familiar with, and fails to recapture some of the magic of what made its previous material great, but through a situation that it cannot fault itself for. “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” is a film that I would have been terrified to be a part of if I were a higher-up at Marvel. I know “Black Panther” is a popular IP and there is no question as to whether or not a sequel should be made. But my question from the beginning was how the heck the story could go on without the title character.

If you look back at films like “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness,” you would notice in the posters and marketing that the subtitle is a tad bigger than the title itself. The same is true for “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.” One could argue this is coincidental, but I would contend there is a reason why “Black Panther” is tiny and “Wakanda Forever” is enormous. This film, while it is ultimately a “Black Panther” story, is ultimately about the Wakanda community. How they come together. How they deal with grief. How they engage in politics. There is no way this film would not have had “Black Panther” in its title. Because if it did not, it would probably lose money. Although at the end of the day, this is part of what I mean when I say the film is overstuffed. Again, there is almost barely a center character. If anything, Wakanda itself is debatably the central character.

Now that I have seen all of phase 4, one of the commonalities during some of phase 4’s stories is the concept of grief. If you ask me, despite being an example of art imitating life, I think “WandaVision” and weirdly enough, “Spider-Man: No Way Home” had better execution when it comes to grief. Maybe it is because of my connection to one specific character either during the story itself or in previous installments and how they end up dealing with it. “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” dealing with grief was perhaps unavoidable because of a real life event. There are moments, especially towards the film’s end, where grief comes into play that continue to stick with me. But part of what made “WandaVision” and “Spider-Man: No Way Home” more fulfilling is that I knew who to root for. Wanda and Peter Parker. Of course, “Wakanda Forever,” a movie where, again, Wakanda itself may as well be considered the central character, presents a scenario where an entire society is mourning. But because the movie had an overabundance of characters and things going on at times, it becomes less powerful for me.

Although if there is one thing “Wakanda Forever” does well despite its flaws, it would be consistency. “Thor: Love and Thunder,” the previous MCU film, was like a seesaw in terms of tone. At certain points, it is as goofy as can be. At others, it is wildly dramatic. There is almost no in between. “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever,” again, like “Thor: Love and Thunder,” clashes in terms of tone, but it is probably the most somber MCU film to date while also having pinches of much needed fun in between. Much like many other Marvel movies, there are moments of levity, but the film itself is a consistent downer. From scene one, the movie does everything it can to remind its audience that not everything is happy go lucky in Wakanda. Much like “Wakanda Forever,” “Love and Thunder” made grief a paramount topic. The film however goes too extreme on both ends to the point where it fizzles the goldilocks zone. While “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” is more depressing than the average MCU film, including other movies that have their downer moments like “Eternals” or “Avengers: Infinity War,” it is at least both steadily, not to mention believably, sad.

Although because this movie is sad, does not mean there are no ounces of joy to be had. In addition to the recently mentioned levity, which is noticeably not as prominent as say “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings,” I liked the chemistry between Shuri and Okoye. The action, during this film’s collection of sequences, is well-done and kept my attention throughout. There is even a segment where someone catapults into the air via fish. I do not remember if it was a dolphin or a whale. I would have to watch the movie again, but that caught me off guard. This has to be arguably the craziest cool sight I have witnessed in a comic book movie since that one scene in “Aquaman” where an octopus plays the drums.

With all this sadness though, some of you might ask, can you bring your family and children to this movie? After all, Marvel movies, in addition to being box office hits, are also traditionally fine options for large groups like families. Even for children despite the usual PG-13 rating. To answer the question, I would say yes. This may not be as fun as “Guardians of the Galaxy” or “Spider-Man: No Way Home.” Although there is nothing absolutely offensive, nothing overly gory, and despite the film’s serious nature, there is nothing in it that I would think would instantly turn off younger viewers or the parents trying to entertain said younger viewers.

Before we move on, without giving a ton of detail, there is a fantastic joke in the movie about MIT. You will know it when you hear it. It got a good laugh out of me, and I think many people reading this will react similarly.

In the end, “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever,” while still a decent movie, is a step down from the original. It is the neither the best or worst film of phase 4. It is somewhere close to the middle. The film is ambitious, but cannot quite fill the massive void that Chadwick Boseman left. I admire that “Wakanda Forever” took the risk of killing off one of its core characters and making that a backbone as to where things go in the film. Unfortunately, it led to a movie of both hits and misses. Is the film worth watching? The answer would be yes. It has its flaws, but in a thumbs up/thumbs down world, “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” is a thumbs up, not to mention a 7/10.

Well, that is the end of phase 4! If I have to be honest, while this is not my favorite phase in the MCU, I will give it credit. Unlike phases 1, 2, and 3, every movie that came out in phase 4, had some semblance of decency at minimum. In phase 1, I was not a fan of “Captain America: The First Avenger.” In phase 2, I did not like “Thor: The Dark World.” In phase 3, I disliked “Captain Marvel.” Phase 4’s movies, from “Black Widow” to “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever,” were all entertaining, fun, and worth watching. They all had flaws, but they were also worth watching. I have no idea what phase 5 is going to be like, but I hope that like phase 4, the movies continue to be solid.

“Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” is now playing in theatres everywhere including premium formats like IMAX and Dolby Cinema. Tickets are available now.

Thanks for reading this review! My next review is going to be for the brand new Searchlight Pictures film “The Banshees of Inisherin.” I just watched the film this weekend, and while I look forward to reviewing just about every movie I see, I mean it with this one. I cannot wait to review “The Banshees of Inisherin,” I hope to drop it soon.

If you want to see more of my thoughts on phase 4 of the MCU, check out my reviews for “Black Widow,” “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings,” “Eternals,” “Spider-Man: No Way Home,” “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness,” and “Thor: Love and Thunder.” If you want to see this and more from Scene Before, follow the blog either with an email or WordPress account! Also, check out the official Facebook page! I want to know, did you see “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever?” What did you think about it? Or, what are your thoughts on Marvel’s phase 4? What is your favorite movie or television show from the timeline? Let me know down below! Scene Before is your click to the flicks!

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