PG-13 for typical Marvel violence. Okay, there's one moment that is especially harrowing, where a character gets a spear through them. And this is the movie that isn't afraid to kill off major characters. But the thing that maybe makes this for older audiences is the intentional lack of humor that the movie has. It's the same visuals we had before, but often without the cathartic laugh to accompany that violence. PG-13.
DIRECTOR: Ryan Coogler
I didn't want to write about another 2022 movie. I'm grumpy when I should be relieved. I'm writing about a movie that I really liked, but ultimately was pretty dour. I'm just going to be feeding a beast with this blog entry. But do you know what part of my personality will be satiated? My commitment to organization. Because I watched Black Panther: Wakanda Forever before Scream 4, I know that I'm being as a pre-crastinator versus a procrastinator. I don't even know if that's accurate. I just Googled "antonym for procrastinator" and found a whimsical article that's full of it.
Major directors love dunking on Marvel movies. It's a bummer because Marvel Studios are keeping movie theaters in business. Sure, it must be frustrating knowing that you have an original work in the pipeline, but people are more exciting to see the thirtieth sequel of a movie instead. But I want to specifically focus on James Cameron's recent rally against Marvel Studios. Despite the fact that Avatar: The Way of Water was being promoted during Wakanda Forever in the form of a trailer, Cameron rallied against Marvel saying that there were no real stakes in Marvel movies. It's appropriate that something like Wakanda Forever is the movie to clap back at that because I have a vibe that Wakanda Forever will have far more stakes than The Way of Water. Every so often, cinematic trends tend to align. With James Cameron and Ryan Coogler, we're going to see intense family action movies that involve blue people who live underwater. Cameron's argument is that superheroes never adapt and put family in front of superheroing, but that's almost exclusively what Wakanda Forever is all about.
It's really appropriate that, in the title, Black Panther is very small while Wakanda Forever seems to dominate. This isn't a Black Panther movie as much as it is about the people of Wakanda. To be as sensitive as possible with this, it comes down to the loss of Chadwick Boseman. Similarly with how one of the Fast and the Furious movies spiritually became about the death of Paul Walker, this movie hinges on the death of Chadwick Boseman. It absolutely has to be tricky to make a movie, especially a big budget movie, about the real life death of an actor. There's the temptation to constantly mention it, but also making it reverent enough to remind audiences of the void left by the passing of the central character. Ghostbusters: Afterlife did a good job. I think that Wakanda Forever is the more mature version of that same idea. We have to remember that Ghostbusters was made to be a comedy, so the approaches have to be different. When Boseman passed, Black Panther 2 was already in pre-production. There was a plan for this film that did not involve Boseman leaving the franchise.
It's not that there was a story that needed to be told. It's that there was a conscious decision made not to recast Boseman nor to use CG to bring the actor back. And I wondered how they were going to go about that. Black Panther has a very specific plot device that almost requires Boseman to be in the movie, the Land of Djala. The Land of Djala is an afterlife for the people of Wakanda. When a new person inherits the mantle of Black Panther, they visit the afterlife and receive the blessing of the fallen ancestors before awakening as Black Panther. When Boseman died and the announcement came that they would not be trivializing Boseman's death with recasting or CG, I didn't know how the story would go on. I mean, that had to be a tempting moment, didn't it? Having a CG moment embracing Shuri, who goes through the wringer in this movie? Instead, I now have the deepest respect for Ryan Coogler and Kevin Feige who stuck by it. The life of Chadwick Boseman was more important than their story and they simply worked harder to find a way around it. When Killmonger appeared instead of T'Challa, that said something about what Shuri had become and it was what the story needed. It's absolutely brilliant and overtly respectful to a man's legacy.
Yeah, the movie is bleak. I have to talk about that. It's not a fun movie to watch. There is action. There's also only about three jokes. The movie starts with mourning and returns to the motif of mourning throughout. Again, I can't stress enough how James Cameron really painted with a heavy brush when it came to saying Marvel movies don't know how to understand stakes because this movie was sad. But as sad as it was, it also reminded itself that Marvel can do great things. The first Black Panther movie turned what could have been an isolating movie for a niche audience into an epic. While I don't believe that the first movie should have been up for an Academy Award for Best Picture, I would have a hard time defending against Wakanda Forever being a Best Picture.
The first Black Panther movie was an extremely good action superhero movie. It's great and the visuals were impressive. But ultimately, it was a very Marvel story. Like with Phase One Marvel, there was a hero who had a copy of himself. Killmonger might have been one of the better mirrored villains, but there is this limited scope to the story. Killmonger wanted power. His reasoning was interesting, but it was just a power grab, like the first Ant-Man movie. Honestly, through a teeny-tiny skewed lens, Black Panther was just the first Ant-Man done better. But what worked in that first movie was the world of Wakanda, which the sequel let grow and become the central idea. But then Coogler did something that I didn't think possible. He took all of the grandeur of his impressive mise-en-scene and he did it again. Instead of just Wakanda, he created the Kingdom of Talokan --the world of Namor. What made Wakanda work is that it had this fictional-based-on-history culture. The same thing holds true of Talokan. If Killmonger acted as a mirror to Black Panther, then Talokan was going to act as a mirror to Wakanda.
Everything of Talokan was gorgeous. I've always had a hard time getting on board Namor comics. To a certain extent, he was always just Marvel's Aquaman, despite being around for so long. His voice, in my mind, was always deep and shouting "Imperius Rex!" Yeah, his basic plot was the same as the movie, defending the people of Atlantis from the surface world. But he was ultimately vapid. He was a force of nature. He took down Wakanda in the comics because he was beefing with T'Challa. Instead, Namor comes across like a jerk, but a well-meaning jerk. He knows that Wakanda and Talokan share similar frustrations with the rest of the world. Shuri even points out that she wants to watch the world burn for being so selfish. And Namor embraces that frustration, knowing that Wakanda could be a real threat to Talokan. The pervading theme of the world being so corrupt that politics become what divide us runs through the story again. Killmonger's frustration with Wakanda grew from technological advancement that could have prevented needless Black deaths across the world. Namor's frustration with Wakanda comes from Wakanda's stressed non-interference will ultimately spiral into the world getting stronger unstoppable weapons. Sure, the Killmonger-was-Right crowd was a bit much, but both of these characters make sense.
And in the center of this: Shuri. When I saw Letitia Wright as Shuri in the first movie, I could not wait to see her get a bigger role. She was the fun part of Black Panther. I knew that she would eventually embrace the role of Black Panther. And to give me what I wanted would have been a mistake for this character. Instead, we got a broken Shuri. We saw someone so full of life and instead of harping on a dead brother the entire time, the shorthand worked so much better --Shuri had to grow up really fast. That's the story. Right there. Death forces us to grow up faster than we'd like. She's angry at her newfound responsibility, but not in a childish way. People want her to be her brother and she's not mad at the role; she's mad at no one being able to be her brother. It's this really strong choice for the movie to take. I thank God that the movie ends on a hopeful note, or I wouldn't know what to do with myself.
There is one thing that bothers me. I keep coming back to this well, but it is something that does bug me about movies. It's when the actor becomes the story. I'm not talking about Chadwick Boseman. I'm talking about Letitia Wright and her Covid-denying nonsense. It's especially considering that Shuri is the advocate for science in the World of Wakanda. That's her character and she's playing this role that her character would abhor. It's a bummer and it does pull me out of the film for a while.
But the movie is too good to let that bother you. Black Panther is barely an element of this movie and it's remarkably smart to play the movie about fallout. I adored it and James Cameron doesn't have a foot to stand on after this movie. Especially considering that no one really cares about Avatar.
What? What did I say?!
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.