Black Panther: Wakanda Forever

One year on from the death of King T’Challa, Wakanda is awash with watery invaders trying to steal their vibranium or something.

Chadwick Boseman’s untimely death proves complicated for a film that has to engage with that tragedy while remaining a fun Marvel romp and introducing a new Black Panther, none of which it navigates with much success. Tributes to T’Challa bookend the movie, and though tastefully handled (with the clumsy exception of his being sucked off into space), they can’t help but feel tacked on. Before you can say “It’s what he would have wanted,” a blue-skinned tribe of underwater Mayans show up riding whales, and the King is all but forgotten.

In fact Wakanda (which is now by the ocean) appears to have been hit by some wave of Blip-induced amnesia, forgetting they have an enormous warship until the end of the film, having failed to build any sea defences against the invasion they have been consistently warned about. They constantly forget what movie they are in, veering between awkward comedy, mournful drama, Phantom Menace visuals, Panther fodder politics and Avatar action, as though watching five films intercut at random (not helped by changing aspect ratios designed for IMAX).

Wakanda Forever even forgets the anti-imperialist point of Black Panther, rendering the persecuted Mayans the villains. The Prince of Whales points out their grievance is with the vibranium-hunting USA, making them and Wakanda natural allies, but the movie needs a scapegoat and these guys are blue. It doesn’t betray its principles as far as Avatar: The Way of Water, where the hero gives the nature-loving aliens machine guns, but there is something weirdly colonial about resurrecting an ancient civilisation so Wakanda can wage a proxy war for the Americans.

It also slips their minds to have a protagonist, a panther-shaped hole unfortunately left by Boseman. T’Challa’s sister Shuri (Letitia Wright) emerges as the new Black Panther despite being a scientist with no combat experience (she simply drinks a potion and immediately gains superpowers, Asterix-style) but she never struggles with this inexperience and therefore has no arc. A host of extraneous characters are either given nothing to do (Dominique Thorne), left entirely unexplained (Lupita Nyong’o) or simply sit in a car bickering (Martin Freeman and Julia Louis-Dreyfus).

This all adds up to a confusing two-and-a-half hours of people we don’t understand saying things that don’t make sense, including “I don’t know who this lady is but we need to listen to her,” and “Heading towards the vibranium detector.” As a visual experience it is perfectly watchable, largely thanks to the Oscar-nominated costumes and hairstyling, which if nothing else makes the threat of Wakanda Forever a vastly preferable proposition over Batman Forever.


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