With an overwhelmingly positive narrative behind the most recent Marvel cinematic release, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is a great film. The earlier review on Fortress sums up quite a lot of sentiment felt since the film’s release. After many setbacks and delays, the sequel to the Black Panther film has reached cinemas across the globe. It was arguably the most-anticipated film in the Marvel Universe Phase 4.
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As is always the case with any blockbuster film in recent years, audiences are best left to judge for themselves in what is becoming quite a polarised scene when it comes to the release of reviews. In some instances, some reviewers will completely trash a film, irrespective of what was good about it or even what it was trying to achieve. It simply didn’t fit their narrative, so it was a bad film. However, a film can have both aspects true. It can be a truly great experience for the viewer, while also leaving behind quite a large hole in the plot, character arch and the like.
Having watched the movie three nights ago, I left the theatre quite pleased with the experience – as I’m sure many others at our screening did. The event spanned across nine separate theatres and when I appeared back in the common area after the post-credits, there was quite the murmur about. Having picked up on a few of these discussions, it’s easy to adjudicate a pleasing experience for most of the audience as well. And that same feeling has been carried the world across.
There are plenty of subplots within the Black Panther: Wakanda Forever film. However, the one that resonates the most amongst viewers is the tribute to the late Chadwick Boseman. Not only does it deal with the loss of King T’Challa within the film’s storyline, but it also pays its tribute to the actor himself. To put it into perspective, there are two scenes within the film in which director Ryan Coogler eulogises the loss. Right off the bat, we’re thrown into a mourning Wakanda, which, as with many African cultures, deal with death in a fairly unique manner. That is translated within the film as well.
However, it is the second tribute that seemed to have really caught the attention of the audience. At least, the audience within our theatre. Never in the 30+ years of movie-going have I witnessed the silencing of a theatre the way it did here. It was palpable. Fans were left mid-popcorn munching, rummaging through the sweet packets and the likes. It all came to a complete stop. Even the person with the nervous tick of rattling hit feet on the ground experienced a moment of healing when it came to a complete stop for a complete minute. It was a minute’s silence of respect you often find in sports stadiums when asked prior to kick-off – but this time, it wasn’t asked, it transitioned naturally.
Moments like these are what made Black Panther: Wakanda Forever so powerful. Even now, as I’m writing this review, that same palpable feeling washing over me.
The other great aspect about the film comes in the form of the two leading protagonists. We first experience this through Queen Ramonda, who grieves the loss of her son, having just a few years ago also mourned the loss of her husband, King T’Chaka. Angela Bassett is brilliant here, as she transitions in this role from a seemingly vulnerable mother to a powerful Queen, speaking at a conference to other world powers, laying down the marker for all Wakanda.
Secondly, there’s the role of Shuri, played by Letitia Wright. What I loved about the character’s arc is that it’s not your stereotypical Marvel or Disney roses and clouds when dealing with the loss of her brother. She is hurting and throws herself into her work, while at the same time rejecting their traditional mourning customs. A vengeful Princess who needs to find her own path and voice in dealing with said loss. This makes the character far more relatable as a whole.
Taking all the other scenery, CGI, character portrayals and pageantry out from the above-mentioned and you’re still left with a great film. Many of the stereotypes and tropes have also been dropped, featuring a more polished end-product. If not for the fact that this is, after all, a Marvel superhero movie, we’re then expected to see some big-budget explosions, fights and the inevitable baddy.
The baddy, in this case, is Namor, played by Tenoch Huerta. He isn’t your typical villain, however. Instead, his reasoning is complicated as certain events unfold, with the inhabitants of Talocan seeing themselves as the good guys. I’m reminded of that famous scene from ‘That Mitchell and Webb Look’ show, raising the question: “Are we the baddies?” Yes. Yes, you are.
And now, for the biggest issue I have with Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.
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Warning: Spoilers Ahead!
As Wakanda has finally been revealed to the world for what it is, a superpower, I couldn’t help but start thinking about the country in its entirety. For starters, how big is the land area for Wakanda? How many citizens does its population have? What is the distribution of its army compared to its everyday citizens?
These are the questions I attempted to answer at the end of first film, and these same questions are thrust front and centre in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever without many of the viewers realising. When Queen Ramonda meets with the other council members at the conference on its policies, its weapons and its role in the larger global population at large, it faces off against the likes of USA and France directly. These two countries are the leading objectors to Wakanda not sharing its technology, especially its Vibranium.
As we learn early on, Wakanda is not the only civilisation to discover and harness the powers of Vibranium, the world’s most powerful resource. The USA attempt to drill and mine Vibranium they’ve found at the bottom of the deep ocean floor. They discovered this new source of the precious metal thanks to a very specific invention that sets off the main events in the film. As such, having destroyed the ship and crew that attempt to mine this newly discovered Vibranium, Namor sets out to find the person who invented the Vibranium-finding machine.
At this point, Namor seeks out the assistance of Wakanda by addressing Queen Ramonda as she’s having a heart-to-heart with Shuri, alone near the shore. I may not be using the term ‘assistance’ correctly in this case, as Namor, in fact, threatens the Queen and all of Wakanda to deliver the inventor or face their wrath. It seems a bit heavy-handed but sets the tone of the relations between the only two Vibranium-mining civilisations in the world.
It’s here that Namor utters something along the lines of “don’t test our might, my army has more fighters than Wakanda has blades of grass.” At this point, we, as the audience, are meant to be impressed at this bit of dialogue. Out of nowhere, as if appearing out of the abyss, not only do we now know about the new Kingdom of Talocan but at the same time that it has a military presence that potentially spans into the millions. Impressive, to say the least. But is it really?
It’s an ominous reality that faces Wakanda if the words of Namor are to be believed. To further this claim of the size of his army, we’re presented with a bit of exposition in the form of some visuals on the past, fully equipped with added narration from Namor himself. Sarcasm aside, it does give a good background into the civilisation’s origins. I refer to Talocan as a civilisation simply because I’m not aware if they carry the same geographical affiliations us surface-dwellers are accustomed to – whether they have cities and capitals with various populations residing in each. From what I could gather, it’s all a singular habitation for its peoples.
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In addition to this, we know that civilisation is some 500 years old. Its underwater nation was inspired by the Tlālōcān of Aztec mythology. As such, a lot of its cultural aspects such as buildings, jewellery, paintings and the likes also take draws its inspiration from the now-Mexican, former empire. And, given this background, you can then deduce that its population would have flourished in the ocean, unincumbered by any wars, potential disease and the likes of the surface world. As such, and going back to Namor’s earlier dialogue, we cannot then rule out that its population would easily extend into the millions, if not tens of millions. His statement, then, is plausible.
Now, on the opposite end, we look at Wakanda. According to the Marvel databases, we expect that the MCU version would be similarly resembled to have a population around 6 million. Then, all the earlier questions I had also come back into play. How large is the Wakandan army and how much military prowess does it have? In short, not that many as it turns out.
After all its pushback at the world conference that it can easily surpass the likes of the US military, one has to wonder how. Yes, it has far more advancements in technology but how many people do they have capable of flying their aircraft, riding their rhinos and elephants on border patrol or Dora Milaje with their spears?
With all the talk and threats of war throughout the film, we finally get to see the might of the two Vibranium-rich civilisations. Both of these superpowers had quite the smack talk in the lead-up to the battle, in which we were roped along all this time into believing their capabilities. In the end, however, it turned out to be nothing more than hot air. A damp squib if you will.
The big battle is meant to be fought at sea, with the Wakanda forces all on a single ship, with the cover of some tech that deters the Talocan army from getting anywhere close. In addition, they do have some air support in the way of one or two fighter jets and some flying soldiers – three in total. That really doesn’t feel like all that many.
At the same time, the Talocan army approach the battleground, riding in on a few whales. Are we to believe that was their entire army? A total of four or five whales carrying its army, who are holding onto the animals as they enter the scene. How much of a desert is Wakanda then, if these are the blades of grass they were referring to?
I can only surmise that the lack of an impressive army on either end was a result of the CGI budget. But why then make such elaborate claims if we’re never to see it, ever. At no point in the film did we see anything near the amount of people Namor had claimed was in his army – not even among the everyday people in its ‘streets’.
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In the end, one couldn’t even count that 1,000 fighters were on the battlegrounds in its totality with both armies combined. There were more bodies on the ground during the final battle with Thanos, which you could see over the distance. The fact that the soldiers of two armies of the supposed biggest world powers can fit onto the deck of one ship, which in itself was poorly designed, leaves a lot to be desired. I can’t tell if it was an oversight or an expectation that fans wouldn’t question it. If it’s the latter, then it’s quite disrespectful that they would take this fact for granted of us, the fans, expecting more.
At the end of the day, the final “boss fight” we often get to see in Marvel films falls flat in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, and by some considerable margin as it turns out.
What are your thoughts on Black Panther: Wakanda Forever?