Chadwick Boseman's absence is noticeable in a character-focused, but lengthy comic book sequel.
There's not much you can do when a movie star unfortunately passes away, especially when he's also a title character in one of the greatest movie franchises ever. However, the Marvel machine has to keep chugging along and in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, T'Challa's family must recover after Wakanda's rightful protector passes away from a mysterious illness. However, after a year of national mourning, the African paradise faces a new and difficult challenge, with a newly discovered nation at the bottom of the sea threatening Wakanda's borders, and T'Challa's remaining family, the brilliant sister Shuri and rugged queen Ramonda, must quickly deal with their grief process to keep the peace - as well as appoint a new Black Panther. But who?!
It certainly would have been easy for Disney to digitalise Chadwick's Boseman likeness and stick his face on someone's body, but thankfully they try to make a story that instead moves forward and focuses on the rubble left by the constant assaults on Wakanda's integrity. This is perhaps Marvel's most serious attempt at drama after a long period of identity-less comedies, with death constantly stalking T'Challa's vulnerable family. Shuri, in particular, torments herself for not being able to do more to save her brother. It's also one of Marvel's most drawn-out films, here dragging a thin plot for a total of two hours and forty minutes.
I wasn't a big fan of its predecessor, which I found mostly lacking in conflict, but at least there was an energy, a personality and a drive that is completely missing here. Wakanda Forever is a long-winded farewell to Boseman without any emotional kick whatsoever, with the film mostly treading water until it's time to wave goodbye to the former Black Panther - which we already said goodbye to more than two years ago in reality.
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The Wakanda women take the spotlight in the sequel this time around, which, after standing in T'Challa's shadow, take command of virtually every scene and also introduces a female successor to one of Marvel Studios' most beloved armour bearers. However, it quickly becomes overcrowded with characters and it's a shame that the majority lack nuance, even if the filmmakers really try to do what they can to highlight these superwomen. In fact, the conflicts between the characters feel tacked on and the plot surrounding the vengeful Mayan demigod, Namor feels very "been there, done that", which mostly dampens Shuri's newfound anger towards the outside world. There's a lack of originality in both storytelling and narrative, which makes the film's twists all the less surprising once they arrive.
For a while, I also felt like I was watching an unfinished version of the upcoming Avatar sequel The Way of Water, in which Shuri and the gang take on blue warriors who ride whales and throw water bombs at "colonisers" who want their precious resources. However, Cameron's big Smurfs look far more impressive than Marvel's usual jerky computer effects, which quickly become overused, and it soon becomes hard to take a villain whose heels are adorned with Hermes wings seriously as he whizzes around. It all stinks of Aquaman, but less entertaining.
For a film that's all about moving on, it certainly takes its time to get going and while I appreciate Ryan Coogler's desire to bring as much life to the characters as possible, they still come off as thin as a comic book page, no matter how much exposition is thrown in. Wakanda Forever is an inarguable comic book adventure that wants to be more than just a side story to the Avengers saga and manages to be a more grown-up Marvel production to some extent than many of the studio's jokey outings, but it could have used a dose of extra humanity to really convince.