It was, I think, inevitable that any sequel to Black Panther would fail to live up to the magic of the original movie. For it to try to do so without the magnetic presence of Chadwick Boseman was probably a recipe for disaster. Thankfully Wakanda Forever is not a bad movie, it is just not a great one.
What Ryan Coogler and his team have tried to do in this film is build on the anti-colonial theme of Black Panther by introducing Prince Namor the Submariner and linking him to the Maya civilization. That in itself is not a bad idea. Namor has always been known as a complicated character. He has a burning hatred of the surface world, but he’s also up for fighting alongside Marvel heroes when the planet needs saving. Traditionally his motivation has been rooted in the surface dwellers’ mis-use of the oceans, which makes him ideal for environment-themed stories. But giving him a connection to colonized people gives a sharper focus to his hate, and also provides an interesting foil for the Wakandans.
The point about Wakanda is that, while it has never itself been colonized, it is still African, and all other African people have been colonized. The Wakandans themselves didn’t really understand what being colonized was like until Killmonger came among them. Now they don’t know what their place is in the world. And without T’Challa to guide them, they have to look to the teenage Shuri for leadership.
Enter, then, Namor, who knows exactly what it is like to be colonized, and whose undersea kingdom rivals Wakanda in its technological superiority over the rest of the world. Should they join with him, or oppose him? And will the Americans give them no choice?
So what goes wrong? The first issue is that the Maya connection to Namor’s kingdom seems to be a bit like window dressing. I spotted a few comments on Twitter to the effect that the production crew could have engaged with the existing Maya community in Mexico, but failed to do so. If that’s the case, it is a real shame as the Maya deserve some time in the spotlight.
Problem two is that Shuri, for all that she’s a scientific genius, doesn’t have the gravitas to fill T’Challa’s shoes. The film is supposed to show her growing into the role, but it all seems a bit like painting by numbers. Angela Bassett was superb as always as Queen Ramonda. I think they should have let her take the lead instead.
Problem three is that the mega battle at the end between the Wakandans and the Talocans is just bad. And over-long. Also they do the Aquaman thing of assuming that you can travel from anywhere on land to anywhere in the oceans in no time. If Wakanda has access to the sea, it will be on the east coast of Africa. It takes time to get to the Atlantic.
The film did have some interesting elements. The introduction of Riri Williams was completely unnecessary from a plot point of view, but presumably a requirement of the MCU as a whole. Tenoch Huerta Mejía makes for a convincing Namor, and I am very much looking forward to him encountering the Fantastic Four. Okoye’s graduation from chief of the Dora Milaje to a superhero called Midnight Angel is very welcome indeed, as is the suggestion that she and her fellow Angel, Aneka, are a couple. And finally I would watch any film with M’Baku in it because the daft old ape is a lot of fun.
I haven’t had time to watch the “making of” documentary for Wakanda Forever yet, and the disc has only just come out so there may be other background material on that. I may have more to say later. But for now I’m pegging this one as a film that exists largely to move the plot of the MCU on and to deal with the tragic death of Boseman.