Saturday, March 11, 2023

Stubs - Black Panther: Wakanda Forever

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (2022) Starring Letitia Wright, Lupita Nyong'o, Danai Gurira, Winston Duke, Florence Kasumba, Dominique Thorne, Michaela Coel. Directed by Ryan Coogler. Screenplay by Ryan Coogler, Joe Robert Cole. Based on Marvel Comics. Produced by Kevin Feige, Nate Moore. Run time: 161 minutes. Color. USA Superhero, Fantasy, MCU

The Marvel Cinematic Universe seems to be a fast-moving train as it continues to pump out films, Wakanda Forever being the 30th in 15 years. All of them have big budgets and make money but that doesn’t mean that they’re all good or all that memorable.

Since the last film, four years ago, there have been a lot of changes in Wakanda. With the unexpected death of Chadwick Bosman, the sequel had to incorporate that, or, either recast the lead. The former was the direction Marvel went.

The film opens with the death of T’Challa. Shuri (Letitia Wright) tries to think of a cure for what ails him, but she fails to come up with a cure in time. Queen Ramonda (Angela Bassett) assumes the throne.

Vibranium becomes the focus of the film. Wakanda likes to think they’re the only source but it turns out they’re not. The US government has developed and deployed a vibranium detector in the Atlantic Ocean. And while they detect a deposit of the metal, they are also detected. The vessel is attacked and everyone on board killed. The US blames Wakanda but it was really a super-human underwater race, the Talokans, led by Namor (Tenoch Huerta Mejía), a winged mutant, who can breathe underwater.

Namor, who doesn’t like the surface dwellers, offers to make Wakanda his ally against them. But the Queen doesn't go along with the idea. Namor changes his demands. He wants to keep Vibranium for himself and offers Queen Ramonda a deal: bring him the American scientist who invented the Vibranium detector, or else he’ll attack Wakanda with his overwhelming army.

Okoye (Danai Gurira) and Shuri (Letitia Wright) try to fit in.

CIA Agent Everett K. Ross (Martin Freeman) divulges the name of the American inventor, Riri Williams (Dominique Thorne), a teenage student at MIT. Shuri doesn’t want her killed so with the help of Okoye (Danai Gurira), the general of the Dora Milaje, they travel to Boston to get her. But while they’re there, the authorities move in but are thwarted by Namor and his Talokan squad. Namor takes both women hostage. Later, Namor takes Shuri down into Talokan and shows her the splendor of his world, made, of course, with Vibranium.

Meanwhile, the Queen travels to Haiti and recruits the help of Nakia (Lupita Nyong'o), a member of the War Dogs, the central intelligence service of Wakanda, and T'Challa's former lover. Nakia manages to hunt down an entrance to Namor’s kingdom and rescues Shuri and Riri, taking them back to Wakanda.

Of course, Namor is not happy and goes to Wakanda, flooding the city. While saving Riri, the Queen drowns, making Shuri the new Queen. Knowing that Wakanda needs a new Black Panther to protect it, Shuri uses a remnant of the herb that gives Namor and his people super powers and synthesizes it. She manages to recreate the potion that was given to T’Challa and gave him his powers. She is now the Black Panther.

Shuri, with Riri’s help, prepares to battle Namor. Riri creates an Iron Man-like exoskeleton suit for herself and Shuri makes armor for Okoye that makes her the Midnight Angel. They also equip an airplane with a de-humidifier after figuring out that water helps to rejuvenate Namor’s powers.

Luring the Talokans into another battle using another Vibranium detector, Shuri manages to trap Namor in the plane but they crash on a desert island before he is vanquished. Their battle continues with Shuri as the Black Panther overpowering the weakened Namor. He surrenders and withdraws his troops even as the other Talokans appear to be on the verge of defeating the Wakandans.

Riri is returned to the US and Ross is saved on his way to prison, sent there by the new director of the CIA and Ross’s ex-wife, Valentina Allegra de Fontaine (Julia Louis Dreyfus), on the charge of treason.

Though defeated, Namor promises a Talokan who asks him that they are not through and that Talokan will rise again.

Meanwhile, Shuri travels to Haiti where she learns that Nakia has given birth to T’Challa’s son Toussaint (Divine Love Konadu-Sun­).

Namor (Tenoch Huerta Mejía)
Tenoch Huerta Mejía as Namor.

You may be getting the correct impression that Wakanda Forever is as much a sequel as it is a way to introduce Namor to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Namor made his first appearance in Marvel Comics #1 (October 1939). Considered the Marvel Aquaman, Namor appeared two years before his sea-living counterpart. There are many similarities between the two characters, only Namor has always seemed more vengeful than Aquaman. No doubt somewhere in the back of Kevin Feige’s mind there's a sequel or a stand-alone Namor film ruminating. Whether or not the new austerity at Marvel will allow for one remains to be seen.

There are also similarities between Riri Williams and a young Tony Stark from Iron Man. Both are geniuses and while Riri didn’t build her suit from a bunch of scraps, she’s definitely smart. It doesn't take too much imagination to see her returning somewhere down the line as well.

Like many of the Marvel films, this one is heavy on the special effects but what can you expect from a film about super heroes and God-like beings? But sometimes, the special effects can become a crutch for storytelling.

The film has issues. To begin with, it’s too long. I’m not the first reviewer to feel this way but the nearly three-hour runtime sort of wears you down.

And there are the plot holes. The biggest for me centers around Riri Williams. Namor’s demand that she be killed or else there will be war is central to the film. However, while Riri may have invented a Vibranium detector, it is doubtful that another one couldn’t have been built without her. Government projects are a little more involved than just someone builds something unique and no one knows how to recreate it. No doubt, there would be blueprints and patents, if not a defense contractor involved as well. If Namor is supposed to know so much, you’d think he’d be aware of that, too. But hey, this is a fantasy, why get bogged down in how things really work?

For films like this, special effects can be used, and they are here, to cover up for some of the holes. While they are very impressive it is hard to remember any shot in the film that was either done in front of a green screen or otherwise enhanced.

Angela Bassett as Queen Ramonda.

There is some good acting, with Angela Bassett getting called out for her performance with an Academy Awards nomination. That’s not to say the other actors do bad work, because they don’t. Letitia Wright, Danai Gurira and Lupita Nyong'o will most likely be called upon to carry the franchise in the future, and in that regard, it is in good hands. Tenoch Huerta Mejía is also menacing enough as Namor to be in line for a repeat performance if and when Namor gets his own film.

As can be gleaned from the fact that this review comes over a year after the film’s release in February 2022, I wasn’t in a big hurry to see the film. I sort of look at Black Panther films the same way I do Dr. Strange films: homework. They are films I sort of have to see, rather than films I look forward to seeing. I know I’m a bit in the minority, given the popularity of the film, but as I get pickier as to the MCU films I watch, I’m not sure if I’ll be returning to Wakanda anytime soon.

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