Photo by: Charlie Martin
Spoiler warning: minor spoilers for Black Panther: Wakanda Forever
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is unlike the rest of the MCU, for better and for worse.
Wakanda Forever had high expectations to live up to, and not just because it’s the last movie in Marvel’s fourth phase. The original Black Panther is one of Marvel’s most highly acclaimed movies, and following the death of lead actor Chadwick Boseman, its sequel was looking unstable. Wakanda Forever weaves this instability into its story, giving audiences their first superhero political thriller.
After T’Challa’s untimely death, Wakanda must defend itself on two fronts at once, defending their honour against the nations of the world and defending their home against Namor (Tenoch Huerta Mejía) and his underwater nation of Talokan. These conflicts are tense, and keep the Wakandan protagonists on the back foot. For every victory, they lose something bigger, making their struggle more engaging.
This movie has a far more serious tone than most Marvel movies. While some of the supporting cast have comedic moments, it’s usually outweighed by their serious scenes, and no character is pure comic relief like Korg from Thor: Love and Thunder. The movie isn’t broody like many of its contemporaries from DC’s catalogue either, and provides a welcome middle ground from both of these extremes.
With that being said, this more serious, political tone is a drastic shift from other Marvel movies, and the movie doesn’t always convey it perfectly. There are a lot of characters to keep track of, and it can be tricky remembering who each one is when they only show up a couple of times.
Additionally, there is an odd shift in perspective halfway through the movie. The first half focuses on Ramonda (Angela Bassett), who reclaims her role as queen of Wakanda after T’Challa passes. Much of this half of the movie focuses on her responses to external pressures on Wakanda, and just as you start to get familiar with her perspective the movie shifts away from her, focusing on Shuri (Letitia Wright), her daughter.
This sudden shift in perspective was a bit jarring; though we’d seen plenty of Shuri in the first half, she was a minor character compared to Ramonda. It’s like if halfway through Spider-Man: No Way Home, the movie shifted its focus almost entirely onto Ned. Shuri should have shared more of the spotlight with Ramonda in the first half to make this change feel less clunky.
For a superhero movie, the action is surprisingly tame. The Black Panther already had one of Marvel’s least flashy superpowers, and now that T’Challa is gone the Wakandans are all just humans. There is a lot of skill behind their use of spears and close quarters combat, but nothing that new or interesting, and none of the fight scenes stuck out during or after the movie.
One common critique of modern Marvel is of its special effects. As Marvel tries to keep its constant flow of releases, their special effects artists don’t always have the time to make the effects look their best. Wakanda Forever is not exempt from this: there’s a very jarring moment during T’Challa’s funeral where his casket is beamed up to a Wakandan ship, and the cheap CGI was glaring and ultimately took away from the sombre tone of the scene.
Knowing this, I was surprised at how good the underwater scenes looked. As Namor and his kingdom are prominent in the movie, there are several scenes set underwater, and I thought they would be loaded with bad CGI. However, the cast and crew have said they actually filmed underwater, with many of them honing their swimming and diving skills specifically for their roles. As a result, the scenes are immersive and far more convincing than other Marvel scenes.
Wakanda Forever is an interesting movie to cap off Marvel’s fourth phase with, as it differs from most of their other projects. The use of practical effects and the less goofy tone are welcome given the rest of Marvel’s recent releases, but there are some areas where it falls short of its Marvel contemporaries as well. It’ll be interesting to see if other Marvel projects might take after its example, but also learn from its mistakes.