Black Panther: Wakanda Forever Is Ambitious but Disappointing
On the one hand, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is one of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s most ambitious films. Although it doesn’t have quite the multi-character scope of, say, Avengers: Endgame, it attempts a grounded, essentially political story of national character and international relations—Dan Drezner, call your office—set in a world of exalted, fantastically powerful characters. It aims to be a solemn domestic family drama, a succession struggle, and a parable about the dangers of American interventionism, as well as a rollicking superhero action movie, all at once. It was also made under genuinely trying conditions: Chadwick Boseman, who played the title character in the previous film and several other MCU installments, tragically died of cancer in 2020 as the sequel was being developed. In some ways, it’s astounding and impressive that the film exists.
But the movie that resulted is, sadly, a mess; narratively convoluted and flat-out ugly at times, with sub-streaming-TV special effects and indistinct imagery throughout. The story is laden with subplots intended to set up or nudge along strands of the overall MCU plotline, almost entirely to ho-hum effect. And while there are several strong performances, the story’s attempts at political relevance come across as half-hearted efforts to recreate the frisson of intra-national conflict that defined the first film. The result is a bloated, aimless, visually unappealing two-and-a-half-hour blockbuster that feels less like a distinctive vision and more like something cobbled together out of bits of Marvel movie detritus.
That’s not to say there are no stirring moments, especially when the movie pays tribute to Boseman. The film begins with the death of his character, King T’Challa of Wakanda, the long-secret afrofuturist nation and the home of what is believed to be the world’s only supply of vibranium. The somber funeral sequence—a march through the streets of Wakanda in the shadow of a mural of the departed king—is one of the most affecting moments in Marvel movie history, capturing a profound grief that is almost unheard of in comic book movies where death is rarely permanent.
But that grief struggles to assert itself through the rest of the film, which mostly plays like a grab bag of MCU sidequests and side plots. The plot is set in motion b
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