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Black Panther: Wakanda Forever | movie review

Chadwick Boseman is and always will be missed.

 

Movie summary: The people of Wakanda fight to protect their home from intervening world powers as they mourn the death of King T'Challa. (IMDb)


I'm not sure if I've said it before, but the original Black Panther is one of two movies that have a strange effect on my memory: I know that it's an excellent film as an undeniable conscious fact for me, and that I love watching it because it's so damn good. And yet, despite knowing this, the further I get from the last time I watched it, the more I doubt my recollection of how good it is until I re-watch it and re-confirm that it is indeed a genuinely fantastic film.


Strangely, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever has had another weird effect on me that also matches the effect of a second film, The Favourite in this case. Each individual piece of these two movies are excellent in my opinion, whether that's the casting, performances, make-up, hairstyling, production design, cinematography, score and more - every last piece of both movies are great, and yet they're both somehow less than the sum of their parts for me.


With The Favourite, I couldn't tell you why that's the case, but there's a pretty bloody obvious reason why Wakanda Forever doesn't quite work as well as it should, which is the passing of Chadwick Boseman. Even with the movie paying tribute to him in far more subtle fashion than I could've imagined, it doesn't change the fact that there's no-one in the cast who can replace his central role in this particular section of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.


There were a lot of people (deservedly) praising the supporting cast of the first film, but some even claimed they outshone Boseman, which I disagreed with as he was the central pillar/rock/glue that everything else in that movie depended on to turn out as good as it did. Despite some excellent performances from the cast here, there's no-one even close to approaching Boseman's performance as a unifying creative force at the centre of proceedings.


Angela Bassett comes closest through sheer strength of emotion as a grieving mother with a performance that is genuinely upsetting to watch with how incredibly raw her sadness comes across. Despite her brilliance that I'd say is at least awards nomination worthy, she's still only one person in what is definitely more of an ensemble outing this time and, thanks to playing no part in the climax, she can't hold the story together the way Boseman did.


I really do feel sorry for the cast and crew of Wakanda Forever, as this must've been such a difficult project to see through to completion. Take this as a warning that this is also a very serious movie for the MCU, with very little humour at all other than small moments here and there, which means it can be quite a heavy watch if you're going in expecting 'typical' MCU fare - especially with the films over two and a half hours runtime.


It's not all bleak though, as it's still ridiculously easy to appreciate just how good this movie looks and sounds, including the latest hidden civilisation to show up in the MCU with the Mesoamerican equivalent to Atlantis in the form of Talokan, led by Namor (Tenoch Huerta). I'm looking forward to Avatar: The Way of Water a lot, but I do prefer the darker MCU underwater setting than a lot of the almost cartoonishly-bright underwater scenes I've seen so far from the next James Cameron movie, even if they also look great.


As I said before, it's a long movie and there's a hell of a lot to get through, which might put some people off with just how many story threads and characters Wakanda Forever has to keep going back-and-forth between to keep things rolling. Ryan Coogler is an excellent director, but it really does feel at a couple of moments like the strain of keeping so huge contained does start to show - was the character of Riri Williams, aka Ironheart (Dominique Thorne) really necessary to include here?


Ultimately, it's genuinely impressive just how good Wakanda Forever is considering the loss of Boseman and the toll that must've taken on those working on this film. Just to state/repeat after the criticisms above: everything I haven't criticised is genuinely excellent and I wouldn't be surprised if this movie gets more Oscars to match the original, although it would be a major surprise for it to even be considered for Best Picture with just how much this film is missing that central core for everything else to centre on.


Black Panther: Wakanda Forever doesn't match the first movie, but I don't think it ever could after the choice to not re-cast T'Challa after Chadwick Boseman's untimely passing. There is a hole at the centre of this story that might well be intentional, but it also means that everything feels a little hollow on the inside, regardless of how good - or even excellent - the rest might be.

[8/10 - Very Good]

 

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