Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is now showing in cinemas nationwide.
In the follow-up to the critically acclaimed 2018 hit Black Panther, Ryan Coogler finds himself grappling with many difficult questions. Not only must he find a way forward after the passing of the imitable Chadwick Boseman, but the landscape of Marvel’s cinematic universe has splintered infinitely more. Now more than ever, Marvel’s filmmakers must solve the frankly tricky conundrum of telling a compelling, personal story for their characters whilst nurturing transmedia seeds planted by head honcho Feige and his Marvel parliament. One of Black Panther‘s most laudable laurels was its fundamentally self-contained feeling, from Wakanda’s isolation to the lack of external ‘here’s what’s coming next…’ teases. The result of all this finds Coogler grappling with how to open up Black Panther to the universe of Marvel just as Black Panther: Wakanda Forever deals with the nation’s newfound worldwide attention.
After Boseman’s loss is addressed through a touching yet purposefully fleeting opening, Coogler and co-writer Joe Robert Cole place Wakanda in a cold war situation. Here Angela Bassett’s Queen Ramonda faces off against a politely combative UN only to pull the rug out from beneath the nations that criticise her, marching in Black Ops soldiers after a failed heist of Wakandan materials. It’s clear that Coogler and Cole seek to develop their colonisation and Western imperialism themes further from the original, reflecting a world terrified of not owning all forms of power and desperate to acquire it by any means necessary. In doing so, Wakanda Forever sets the stage for something akin to a Cold War geopolitical thriller rather than a bombastic superhero-fights-supervillain tale, similar to Captain America: The Winter Soldier.
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Through these Cold War geopolitical tensions, Namor and the nation of Talokan are introduced, unnerved by the potential ramifications of Wakanda revealing itself to the globe. Tenoch Huerta Mejíá’s presence is cleverly played like a classic horror villain throughout the first act. It certainly intrigues you what a full-on horror from Ryan Coogler would look like as he embraces the rhythms and tensions that make hearts pound and fists clench. By the time Shuri and Queen Ramonda first encounter Tenoch, equally disturbed by his all-too-easy swagger onto Wakanda’s shores, we are acutely aware of the power he wields and yet troubled by his omnipresence.
Namor’s demand is simple: Wakanda must ensure the world doesn’t discover vibranium, or he will level Wakanda first before coming for the rest of the surface world. However, this feels like the continuation of a narrative misstep that began with the earlier discovery of France as the instigator for the clandestine Black Ops mission into Wakanda. Given their extensive history of false flag operations and interventions, it seems obvious that the United States would have been behind such an attack. When two of the greatest divides between countries and cultures were instigated by world powers like the United States and the United Kingdom, it feels like the true villain pitting Wakanda and Talokan against one another should’ve been a no-brainer. However, I’m sure the MCU would want to keep on the military-industrial complex’s good side so they can keep borrowing tanks and jets in the future.
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As mentioned, Coogler is subject to the infinitely-sprawling transmedia structure of the MCU, leading to threads like RiRi Williams’ introduction. Dominique Thorne is wondrously charming and a solid introduction to Ironheart, but you can feel the corporate necessity of their coming together. RiRi and Shuri have some real will they, won’t they tension too, which is unexplored due to Marvel’s own fear of queer stories. Those hopeful of Michaela Coel’s promise of a queer character should be prepared for disappointment. There’s a lot packed into Wakanda Forever. Because of that, a lot is underdeveloped so that later down the line, Wakanda can be exploited for a myriad of spin-offs and special presentations.
However, for all its narrative bloat, Wakanda Forever stands firmly as the first great film of Phase 4, which is ironic, given it’s the last. It has a robust emotional core, with many of the sequel’s best scenes held in quiet conversations rather than epic CGI battles. Coogler manages to navigate both the demands of a franchise more monolithic in breadth than ever whilst also achieving intimacy and careful consideration as to how to continue this nation’s story and who should lead it. There’s an overarching struggle of deciphering what to hold onto of the old while moving to the new –it’s a question that Wakanda Forever applies as macrocosm to each of its characters and the crisis at large, but also reflects the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s current quandary.
No matter what, Ryan Coogler will always elevate the Marvel Cinematic Universe through his melding of genre and culture, crafting an immensely interesting world that provokes curiosity, not from the superhero guardians who protect it but the people and the traditions that power it.
Tenoch Huerta Mejía as Namor in Marvel Studios’ Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios. © 2022 MARVEL.
Wakanda Forever sets the stage for something akin to a Cold War geopolitical thriller rather than a bombastic superhero-fights-supervillain tale, similar to Captain America: The Winter Soldier.