Movie Review — A Bloody, Funereal Sequel — “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever”

The “Black Panther” movie in which we say goodbye to the character as he once was and the actor who played him might rightly be expected to be a journey through grief.

But while Ryan Coogler’s “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” manages some grace notes and touches on some of the way stations of such a journey, it’s much more concerned with new threats, greater violence, world expanding and new eye candy. This is “fan service” that isn’t as much service to the fans as you’d expect.

The most moving remembrance of the late Chadwick Boseman is in the re-configured Marvel comics flip-book logo at the beginning of the film, something echoed — almost as an afterthought — in the finale.

Boseman’s loss may hang over this impressive, grim and bloody sequel. But his spirit is sorely missed in a movie that’s never less than heavy going, even as it delivers big action beats above and below the sea, testy confrontations in tight close-up and realistic underwater footage that might get an approving nod from no less than James Cameron, should he deign to check it out.

We don’t really get to mourn Boseman/Black Panther, not in any emotional way. A funeral service in a forest, a procession that is an attempt at African upbeat (New Orleans without the brass bands), a bit of the Queen’s speech here, a mention there. The catharsis of grief is missing.

And nobody in this cast, working with this “show something new” sequel even gets to attempt to provide the lighter touch Boseman brought to this universe. Without that or grief, the film plays as kind of flat, lacking highs or lows that move us or move the needle.

All the futuristic medicine at Wakanda’s and Princess Shuri’s (Leititia Wright) disposal cannot save the stricken, off camera King T’Challa. The loss is acknowledged movingly but briefly by his mother, Queen Ramonda. A brief funeral, a brisk procession and the realization that this isn’t enough cannot allay the grief or force the film to take the time to address.

A Black Pantherless Wakanda is under threat. The Americans (Richard Schiff), French and others at the UN let the tiny but all-powerful kingdom know how much they covet the magical mineral in this Marvel universe — vibranium.

“You perform civility here,” the Queen hisses, warning that Wakanda will “protect our resources.

But there might be another source of the vibranium. Lake Bell plays a scientist running a deep sea drilling project whose possible strike of the Mother Lode is interrupted when they’re attacked from beneath the waves.

Mermaids sing a siren’s song, luring workers and commandos to their deaths. Mermen and Merwomen spill blood without hesitation.

When the world assumes Wakanda did this to protect its monopoly, Shuri and General Okoye (Danai Gurira) must get to the bottom of this act of war and deal with the hitherto unknown Atlanteans and their leader, Namor (Tenoch Huerta of “Sin Nombre” and “The Forever Purge”), hear their story, figure out their beef and decide whether these menacing mer-Mayans are friend or foe.

Finding somebody to give Wakanda an evenly-matched foe to struggle against in this sequel was always going to be tricky. Bringing in The Sub-Mariner (never so-named here) and his pre-Colombian/escaped-the-Spanish civilization expands this corner of the Marvel universe and embraces — just enough — the broader racial representation that made “Black Panther” not just a hit, not just a cause, but a phenomenon.

But I doubt we see the Wakanda end zone and post-dunk salutes that spread of their own accord when the first film came out.

And while Huerta is striking and wonderfully menacing in the part, there’s little about this addition to the franchise that suggests this inclusion will be any sort of cultural draw.

Truth be told, the movie’s just not much fun. No, funerals aren’t supposed to be, but even that feels neglected in the script’s dogged march into war and showing off new Wakandan tech and its Atlantean counter-tech. The conflict seems contrived, more something “we need for this movie to have an impetus” than anything that feels particularly organic.

If you cast Julia Louis Dreyfus as the CIA chief and even she has trouble finding an intended laugh, that’s on you. And the CIA agent played by Martin Freeman fares no better this time out.

Wright is solid but less than wholly inspiring as the willowy princess who must carry the mantle of the franchise, something that doesn’t seem a huge problem until you throw her into scenes with Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o, who is gifted with more screen presence and gravitas. Bassett is at her fiercest and Winston Duke the only lighthearted player in the lot.

Dominique Thorne plays the pawn in this new struggle, an American college kid/Wakanda fangirl whose inventions are allegedly triggering all this new strife. Aside from the character’s “Macguffin” like function in the plot, she is simply here as a surrogate for the audience, a “fan” who gets to mix it up in Wakanda’s latest struggle. Pausing to admire her vintage Dodge Challenger might be fan friendly, but it’s one of many ways this picture finds to stop and clumsily restart.

Pacing is something of a problem, as Coogler has to zip from location to location and always give us a long screen graphic — first in Wakandese, or Atlantean script, then tediously translated into English — to identify Haiti, the Yucatan Peninsula, etc.

As I’ve mentioned in many reviews of films of this ilk over the years, this isn’t my favorite genre. Unlike the somewhat better “Black Panther,” this installment was always going to be more somber thanks to the loss of its star. What the film lacks is the will to make that loss heartbreaking.

Rating: PG-13 for sequences of strong violence, action and some language.

Cast: Angela Bassett, Letitia Wright, Tenoch Huerta, Danai Gurira, Winston Duke, Martin Freeman, Julia Louis Dreyfuss, Richard Schiff, Lake Bell and Lupita Nyong’o

Credits: Directed by Ryan Coogler, scripted by Ryan Coogler and Joe Robert Cole, inspired by the Marvel Comics characters. A Marvel Studios release.

Running time: 2:41


About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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9 Responses to Movie Review — A Bloody, Funereal Sequel — “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever”

  1. Nkjoajifa says:

    “Willingness to make that loss heartbreaking”

    ^ You miss the point that a part of what makes Wakanda compelling is that it is a story of optimism for the future – and from an African perspective.

    It’s the exact opposite of the perspective of something like Donald Trump’s America – which is bitter about the present, scared of the future, and delusional about the past.

    It’s a miracle that Cooglar didn’t give in to the need to ‘recast’ T’Challa which would make the film a complete nostalgia fanfare.

    You don’t understand this film.

    • Roger Moore says:

      You plainly haven’t seen the film, or understand what the word “funereal” means. It’s an action packed flatliner.
      To me, anyway.

      • Derek says:

        Umm you do know Everyone around the world don’t view and handle death the way Europeans view and handle death.

      • annyrutts says:

        I’ve seen the film and I agree with Nkjoajifa. “an attempt at African upbeat (New Orleans without the brass bands)” is a really offputting way to describe that funeral scene. Doesn’t sound like you get what Wakanda is going for.

      • Roger Moore says:

        You do get that it’s a comic book movie, right? That it’s a fantasy version, an imagined African/Wakandan Funeral for the Ages? And that in this case it Rob’s the movie of the one thing it absolutely must deliver? Grief? Closure? Sentiment?

    • Roger Moore says:

      You plainly haven’t seen the film, or understand what the word “funereal” means. It’s an action packed flatliner.
      To me, anyway.

    • Roger Moore says:

      You plainly haven’t seen the film, or understand what the word “funereal” means. It’s an action packed flatliner.
      To me, anyway.

  2. Jermaine W. Everett says:

    I’m not sure how you are missing the mark in the critique of this movie but you are. In this movie Coogler paid homage to Chadwick Boseman in multiple ways. In the beginning, here and there throughout the movie and in the end. He even mirrored his character’s death with his actual death. Many people, even those close to him didn’t know until he passed or shortly before.
    Namor’s people being Mayan was a good idea also. The Mayans were ahead of there time, had the most accurate calendar and their sense of astrology and architecture are to be admired. However their disappearance is mostly a mystery, so tying the Atlantans and Mayans together was a smart move to give a realistic touch. Additionally their story and the showing of their civilization to Shuri was a big part of the overall story. Shuri would see the similarities and see what they are fighting to protect, because as she’s seeing herself other countries want what they have and will go to great lengths to get it. All playing back to one of the premises of the first movie. If they let themselves be known to the full extent, world powers will get greedy and want that power for themselves. To do what they will and strive for dominance.
    Shuri never really faces reality. She jokes through things and engages in her work to escape. She likes to have fun experimenting with her new gadgets and kind of lives vicariously through others. All this is shown in the first movie when her father passes. Her pillar is her brother and her mother is her secondary pillar. Shuri is one of if not the greatest minds in Marvel. Her not being able to save her brother from a disease that she could’ve cured him if he let her know earlier eats her alive. She refuses to deal with her brother’s passing throughout the movie. Her mother tries to help her but she’s filled with rage, heartache and confusion.
    Shuri with Namor identifies with his loss of his mother because of the loss of her brother. He helped create major parts of their underwater civilization. Which is advanced in it’s own right and another thing Shuri can admire and respect. Seeing Namor’s people in their everyday lives is reflective upon her own people in Wakanda. Shuri genuinely values life like her brother did because she tried to save one of Namor’s people when she was being rescued. Additionally she knew what it could lead to.
    Dominique Thorne is not simply a surrogate for the audience. This is the introduction of her character Iron Heart. Not only that but her character is where most of the laughs come from. However it’s like you miss the fact that this is a serious movie with some humor mixed in. She is used to ground Shuri, make her step up and face reality, plus make her take up the mantle she was running from. You can see that Iron Heart kind of takes her role in the previous while she takes her brother’s role.
    Shuri sees Killmonger because of the bitterness and hate from losing her father, brother and mother. She was allowing herself to be the very thing she fought against in the first movie. She realized through her mother’s sacrifice, the memory of her brother and the similarities of their two civilizations that if she killed Namor she would be no better than Killmonger. Yet if she made him submit, she would be following in the path of her greatest hero and mentor, her brother. Shuri spent this whole movie grieving her brother,(which is a representation that this whole movie is paying homage and grieving Chadwick Boseman) it wasn’t until she learned to let go that she grew as a character who was really being tested and pushed. Once she let go she learned the truth about herself and other truths about her brother that she found out at the very end.
    In addition to what I said earlier, Iron Heart, Namor and his people are simply being introduced and somewhat established in this movie. That’s because they will play a role in a future movie or movies in the Marvel franchise. There’s quite a few gems that you missed or didn’t quite understand in your critique. Therefore if you are not a fan of this particular genre then maybe you shouldn’t be the one critiquing it.

    • Roger Moore says:

      I appreciate your taking the time to go that far in failing to make your point. Mine is the valid one, that Coogler had one job to do, first act, make us feel the loss, make us cry. And he failed. And by the way, L. Wright is a fine actress and not remotely ready to carry a franchise, but whatever. The whole point of me saying comic book movies are not my jam is to note what empty spectacles they generally are and give anyone reading the review plenty of license for dismissing it if that’s what you need to get through the day, rationalize whatever you get out of it, “He doesn’t get it,” what have you. It’s even more forgettable than the first. But…Enjoy.

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