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Black Panther: Wakanda Forever

Title: Black Panther: Wakanda Forever

Describe This Movie In One Elizabeth Martinez Quote:
The concept of Manifest Destiny, with its assertion of racial superiority sustained by military power, has defined U.S. identity for 150 years.
Brief Plot Synopsis: The king is dead. Long live the ...?

Rating Using Random Objects Relevant To The Film:  3.5 Ronald Bartels out of 5
Tagline: "Forever."

Better Tagline: "Finally, a superhero movie that takes us through all five of Kübler-Ross's stages of grief."

Not So Brief Plot Synopsis: Wakanda is mourning the sudden death of their protector and King, T'Challa the Black Panther. And none more so than his sister Shuri (Letitia Wright) and mother, Queen Ramonda (Angela Bassett). Ramonda is saddled with the unenviable task of shepherding her nation into an era of heightened global scrutiny, while Shuri immerses herself in technical experiments. If their grief wasn't enough, the United States's attempts to find vibranium outside of Wakanda has stirred up a previously unknown civilization, led by the nigh invincible Namor (Tenoch Huerta), a sort of ... aqua man.
"Critical" Analysis: As you might expect, Chadwick Boseman's death from colon cancer in 2020 looms large in Wakanda Forever. Black Panther's loss hangs heavily over the movie, conferring a sorrow uncharacteristic for a so-called "superhero" movie. The decision by Marvel and director Ryan Coogler not to recast the character or digitally recreate Boseman's performance generally works in the film's favor but becomes dissonant as larger plot spins out.

Because this is a Marvel movie, we have to jump from Ramonda and Shuri's attempts at coping to increasing tensions with the undersea kingdom of Talokan and Namor, who blames the Wakandans for the surface world's nosing around in the oceans. Namor's an interesting addition to the admittedly overstuffed MCU, and Huerta captures both the character's arrogant menace as well as his affection and responsibility for his people.

He's a lot like Killmonger, in that his motivations are wholly understandable (and the flashback to young Namor's anti-human radicalization is unlike anything we've seen in the MCU to date). "Colonizer" was used as a joke to refer to Martin Freeman's CIA agent character in previous movies (and here as well), but it's not much of a spoiler to say that Shuri and Namor ultimately find common ground in their respective kingdom's distrust of the predations of white people.

It's quite a cast. Besides Wright, Bassett, Winston Duke (M'baku), Lupita Nyong'o (Nakia), and Danai Gurira (Okoye), we're introduced to Dominique Thorne's "Riri Williams," an MIT student indirectly responsible for the U.S.'s vibranium exploration who forms a bond of sorts with Shuri, and Michaela Cole as "Aneka," a rookie member of the Dora Milaje. And that's without touching on the Talokan people, with Namor's origin updated from "Atlantis" to a connection with Mayan civilization.
click to enlarge
Ramonda finds out Namor isn't just splashing around.
All of this without even addressing the fact that Wakanda Forever is apparently the final movie in the MCU's Phase 4. This particular phase has been remarkable mostly for what hasn't happened, and unlike the Infinity Saga, which grew at a pace that made a certain amount of sense, the MCU's current state is pretty baffling, with everything in the mix from multiverses to Skrulls to Eternals to Roy f*cking Kent to Thunderbolts.

Apologies, that last one isn't until Phase *5*.

Like its predecessor, Wakanda Forever often feels more like it's occupying its own space than advancing the larger narrative. Even so, Namor's story is compelling, while Wright and Bassett do much of the emotional heavy lifting (Bassett is just great overall), newcomer Thorne offers some welcome comic relief (as does Gurira, surprisingly enough). The Afrobeat soundtrack (including Nigerian and Ghanian artists) is a welcome reprieve from the usual repurposed pop or self-serious score work so often found in these movies.

Ryan Coogler had an almost impossible task, having already drafted the initial script when Boseman passed. He still delivers a powerful and often contemplative look at grief and the various ways in which we process loss, while also giving us perhaps the most politically charged MCU movie since, well, Black Panther. It's too bad circumstances forced him to mash the two together, but the end result — while overstuffed and tonally inconsistent — is pretty impressive.

Is There A Mid-Credits Sequence? There is. In keeping with the film's overall theme, it's less about moving the plot forward and more concerned with moving on.

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is in theaters today.
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Peter Vonder Haar writes movie reviews for the Houston Press and the occasional book. The first three novels in the "Clarke & Clarke Mysteries" - Lucky Town, Point Blank, and Empty Sky - are out now.
Contact: Pete Vonder Haar