Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (2022) – Review
(2.5 / 4)
Despite a bloated plot with mediocre cinematography, a strong ensemble cast and score keep Black Panther: Wakanda Forever afloat. The actors put on compelling performances that elevate the material they’ve been provided with. It is to the detriment of this Black Panther sequel that the production could not use their cast to full effect.
One year following the death of T’Challa, Queen Ramona (Angela Bassett), Shuri (Letitia Wright) and Okoye (Danai Gurira) continue to mourn their loss. Global powers attempt to capitalize on Wakanda’s perceived weakness, and seize vibranium for themselves.
Amid the chaos, a second vibranium-based nation reveals themselves to Wakanda, with similarly powerful technology.
They are the underwater kingdom of Talokan, led for centuries by the powerful mutant Namor (Tenoch Huerta Mejía). Resulting from his mutation, Namor has the gift of immense strength and speed, as well as distinctive winged feet.
Borne from Maya escaping from Spanish conquistadors into the ocean, the Talokanil used vibranium-infused plants to transform themselves, building their hidden underwater kingdom.
Efforts by the CIA to find vibranium in the ocean trigger the conflict between Wakanda and Talokan. Blaming Wakanda for drawing attention to Talokan’s vibranium, Namor and his kingdom become Wakanda’s first true geopolitical rival.
Namor is prideful and kills without hesitation to protect his people and their secret kingdom. Wakanda is for once truly vulnerable, and there is no Black Panther to defend them.
The reimagining of Namor and the Atlanteans from the comics as Maya indigenous to Yucatán is a brilliant reframing. The new context gives greater depth and texture to Namor’s pride and anguish than any of his comic depictions. However, it is glaring that “Tlālōcān” is an Aztec religious term, not anything to do with Maya culture.
Director and co-screenwriter Ryan Coogler should have gotten this basic fact correct. This Black Panther entry is weaker for not elaborating on Talokan’s culture as deeply as they did Wakanda in the previous film.
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever has creative premises and compelling characters, but the exhaustive run time burdens these high points with too much fat. The CIA trigger the core conflict of the film, and are present throughout events, but largely irrelevant.
The colonial villains and their continuing actions remain unaddressed throughout the film. The conflict between Wakanda and Talokan does not materially conclude, and could reignite for the same reasons at any time.
Marvel was more concerned with setting up spin-offs than writing a strong, self-contained story. There needed to be greater focus in this Black Panther film on Wakanda’s grief and Talokan’s unique culture. Either make the CIA impactful antagonists or cut their subplot entirely.
Most scenes feels constrictive due to the narrow 2.39:1 aspect ratio used for non-IMAX scenes. When the scene opens up to the taller 1.9:1 IMAX aspect ratio, it’s moderately easier to perceive the action.
The rapid and frequent transitions between these two aspect ratios is jarring and unnecessary. The same Sony Venice camera shot the entire film, and all modern theatres can project 1.9:1 as DCI standard.
Ludwig Göransson’s score evolves from his Oscar-winning score for the first Black Panther. New, more complex Afrofuturistic compositions interplay with Göransson’s attempts to reconstruct Maya musical traditions suppressed by Spanish colonizers.
Wakanda Forever’s score greatly enhances the dramatic weight of the picture. When the visuals fails to impress the audience, the score picks up the slack and keeps you engaged.
Marvel superfans will have enough enjoyment seeing Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. However, as a self-contained film, this movie is half-baked and predictable. The same ingredients could have made a much more interesting motion picture than the one we got.