Black Panther -
Directed by Ryan Coogler
Warning: Spoilers in the second half of this review
Okay... the good stuff first because, it has to be said, I had some issues with Black Panther - Wakanda Forever. However, that didn’t stop me enjoying the movie way more than the first one. I’ve got nothing against former star, the late Chadwick Boseman in the role, I thought he did a good job but, it has to be said, the first Black Panther (reviewed here when I was in a more forgiving mood), was pretty dull and surprisingly repetitive, for the most part. It was a bit ‘meh’ and I’ve only watched that one twice (once at the cinema and once on Blu Ray) so, yeah, it wasn’t that good. I’m delighted and more than a little surprised that this second, direct follow up (as opposed to the many indirect follow ups), is actually immensely entertaining as a stand alone cinematic delight. And that’s perhaps all that matters.
Also, forgive me for not mentioning the character of Ironheart much here (played in the movie by Dominique Thorne) but she’s a relatively new character in the comic books and I have no personal experience of her... I guess she’s around to pick up the mantle of Iron Man in word and deed and, fine, if they can’t get Rob Downey Jr back in the MCU then, that’s the way it is, I guess.
It’s well directed (again, as a purely cinema excursion, as opposed to adapting characters from the comics) and jostled along at a pleasing pace.. although when Shuri (played once again by Letitia Wright) tours Atlantis (but not Atlantis by name anymore, in this ‘adaptation’), the film does stop dead and get deathly dull for just a while. Similarly, when she goes through her dream visitation, it’s equally less engaging than the rest of the movie but, at least that sequence is over quicker. I would say, however that there are a few big negatives, two of which angered me greatly but which, despite popping me out of the movie to reflect on my fury for a few minutes, didn’t taint the viewing experience as a whole.
There are also a couple of traps the movie fell into which were pretty obvious. First of all, they’ve been trying to keep the identity of the new Black Panther a secret and, honestly, I don’t know why they bothered. It was obvious, when Boseman left this mortal coil, who would take over in that role and, sure enough, the character you are totally expecting to inherit the mantle in this movie pretty much does. The other thing this film did was to kill a character from the previous one off at a certain point and, I would be surprised if nobody saw that coming as it was the obvious dramatic beat needed to motivate another character into their ultimate destiny. So, yeah, don’t go to this movie expecting any surprises, that’s for sure.
Okay, onto the really negative stuff I still feel angry enough about to mention then... and we are now getting into spoiler territory people, so stop reading if you don’t want to know.
So we have a prologue to the movie where the emotional stuff about Boseman’s Panther is mourned. It seemed almost like a plug in and didn’t do much for me but, since I know a lot of the audience for this film were pretty upset when Boseman passed (rightly so, I’m sure), I’m guessing these sequences meant something. This is followed by a nice segue into a tribute to Boseman as part of the Marvel logo. Which was nice. What’s not so nice is the next inter-title of the movie which proclaims that we have moved on... and I quote... “One Year Later”. Except, after a day has passed in the story, we then find a character referring to the date as being exactly one year later. What the heck? So the subtitles here totally lied to us... it should have read “364 Days Later” because, frankly, a year had not yet passed. I felt really angry and completely lied to at this early point in the movie. Now I know Marvel has a track record within the franchise of getting their dates and times mixed up and just plain wrong (Spider-Man Homecoming anybody?) but this is literally a time mistake in the same film and it would have been so easy to correct it by just putting the right subtitle up there. Absolutely crazy. I felt really let down at this point. If you can’t trust the written narrative then what can you trust (it takes me back to the days of the Museum Of Moving Image where, despite me complaining on several visits, they had a photo from Blade Runner labelled up as being set in the year 2020 instead of November of 2019)?
The other thing was the introduction of Namor... aka The Sub Mariner... into the Marvel universe. They totally screwed this up in many ways, it seemed to me. Now I’ve got nothing against the actor playing him here, Tenoch Huerta Mejía. I thought he did a good job with the role and gave it a certain depth of character to Marvel’s first comic book anti-hero, who made his debut in Marvel Comics No 1 in 1939. However, Namor was never a complex, three dimensional character. He was more of a hot head, unthinking person who got into scrapes for all the wrong reasons and his dialogue was never that well thought out, especially back in the 1930s and 1940s. He was never this eloquent, expressive or well thought out in his speech and... yes, I know you have to change things to make them work well in a movie but, this just seemed like a betrayal of the character.
Also, I felt like we’d lost the rich legacy of the character by introducing him in a Black Panther movie. When the character was re-established in the silver age of comics incarnation of the Marvel universe in the 1962 Issue 4 of Fantastic Four, it was an absolutely brilliant reveal to his character. As the inheritor of the mantle of Namor’s former frenemy, The Human Torch, burned the beard of a hobo’s face away and revealed him as the long, lost character from the 1930s. I would have loved for Marvel to bring him back in the same way cinematically, perhaps in their upcoming Fantastic Four movie and, let’s face it, what’s the point in having a post 1960s version of the Sub Mariner if he isn’t constantly trying to get into the Invisible Girl’s knickers? This is the version of the character I wanted to see... not this, admittedly well acted, more sophisticated version of the Sub Mariner. Again, not Tenoch Huerta Mejía’s fault, he does well with what has been written for him here... it just felt totally wrong for fans of Namor.
The other slight yawn of a plot point was when they turned Martin Freeman’s long standing ally into a fugitive from justice. It was nice seeing him again as the character but it really achieved nothing in terms of contributing to the overall story and, I can only assume that this is Marvel laying a bit of groundwork to reintroduce the character in more of a ‘superhero’ role later on down the line. I guess we’ll have to see.
However, other than the crippling negative elements of the film, which I just pointed out... yeah, pretty good movie. It entertained and I mostly had a good time with it. Looking forward to seeing where they go from here, in a way (although not in terms of Namor, it has to be said). If you’re into the Marvel movies and liked the original Black Panther, then Black Panther Wakanda Forever should certainly score some points with you... not least because it’s a far superior movie than its predecessor, for sure. Give this one a look if you are into your superhero movies, is my advice on this one.