Black Panther: Wakanda Forever lasts almost three hours. It’s a deliberate slow burn designed both as a heartfelt tribute to Chadwick Boseman and as a passing of the torch to those who will now carry on his legacy. From that perspective, it’s a mammoth success, taking its time to build a compelling world with nuanced characters who don’t have to connect the dots in an increasingly complicated cinematic universe. Even the introduction of new characters like Ironheart is handled with surprising grace, integrated into the core narrative instead of being chained together because their solo project is on the horizon. Their trip makes sense and doesn’t stop Princess Shuri from mourning her late brother.
However, it’s also your typical Marvel fare filled with half-baked jokes and obligatory battles to ensure we don’t get bored and focus our attention elsewhere. I know we’ve talked about Marvel movies being the best movies when they’re not Marvel movies, but the reason they’re making so much money is because they’re Marvel movies, but I still can’t tell prevent wishing that the formula was not so limited in its narration and its thematic scope. Wakanda Forever flirts with much more ambitious ground as Namor the Submariner preaches about the cost of surface warfare and the lack of respect for indigenous peoples, but he inevitably leaves that ideology behind to have a fight that excites many. less than any of his dialogues. He becomes the villain of the week and will soon be forgotten, all to keep the treadmill going and the money train rolling.
Wakanda Forever was likely introduced as both a practical and thematic homage to the previous iteration of the character. A real-world tragedy altered events on the fly, and avoiding a character overhaul was absolutely the best decision. Beyond a mysterious illness, the cause of T’Challa’s death is never mentioned, only that our heroes couldn’t prevent it and must now deal with the consequences. All the advanced technology in the world couldn’t stop a sick man from vanishing, and Shuri spends much of the film dealing with that failure and agonizing over her own unprocessed grief. Scenes often slow to musical interludes where no dialogue is spoken, or long takes where subtle facial expressions and body language do most of the talking. Audiences enter this film aware of the context surrounding its creation and will therefore bid farewell to Chadwick Boseman, as will the cast and characters. The emotions on display are real, which makes the unfiltered devotion to the Marvel formula all the more shocking.
My screening of the film alongside a mix of public and online influencers was almost as divisive as the film itself. Wakanda Forever opens coldly, with T’Challa’s death being revealed to the public along with Shuri, with no one in this futuristic metropolis knowing how to react as everything crumbles. Suddenly, we walk through the funeral, watching a nation mourn its leader in a joyous musical celebration that does not condemn itself to morbid silence, but retains hope despite the loss. It’s all eerily real in its melancholy, as if we’re coming to terms with the simultaneous loss of a hero and an actor, but moments later we’re thrust into elaborate scenes with exposition to get the ball rolling.
Maybe I’ve been detached from the MCU for too long and just forgotten how these movies work, and I’m wrong in expecting something more. We won’t get that, because there are far too many moving parts within the larger machine to take enough risks. Wakanda Forever is probably the exception, as it actively wants to make time to let the slower, more poignant moments hit with proper impact between the usual mix of silly jokes and fight scenes. I’m often reminded that outside of the loss being explored, there really isn’t much at stake in the fight scenes that unfold in front of me. Audiences would gasp in horror and cheer in jubilation, but I knew that several dozen movies and TV shows are planned before this movie, which means nothing bad can happen to these characters. The show has to keep us going, and for me that wasn’t enough. If anything, it only made me turn off faster.
Wakanda Forever is the conclusion of the current phase and a clear sign of things to come in the MCU, and it fills me with both excitement and derision. I can’t wait to see everything Kevin Feige and his friends have planned, but it all reeks of tired predictability that’s currently unshakeable. Ryan Coogler was clearly given creative freedom to pay homage to Chadwick Boseman throughout this film, but the extended runtime and dark tone weren’t enough to keep him from ticking all the same boxes. which we expected. Even the lack of a post-credits scene can’t escape the fact that this is another domino in a long line ready to be knocked down to reach the next big crescendo.