“Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” – Powerful, Moving, LONG (#SpoilerFreeReview)

“It could have been different.”

Story: Five years after the events of Endgame, we see Wakanda reeling as their King – the Black Panther – succumbs to an illness, due to the extinction of the heart-shaped herb. But one year after his passing, as the country and its leadership try to move on, there are countries who would try to take advantage. Countries on land…and below water. Cue some bigass whales y’all!

Genre I’d put it in: Heavyweight Sequels
Release Date: 2022
Remake, Sequel, Based-On, or Original: Based on characters/story lines from Marvel Comics. Part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and the final film in the MCU’s Phase 4.

Gotta say: Forever is a lean, mean, movie machine. There’s a whole lot going on, several stories to begin/wrap up/shift, and tons of characters to debut and check in on. Writer/Director Ryan Coogler handles it all expertly for the most part (stick a pin in that), but y’all. Y’ALL. At over two hours and forty minutes without factoring trailers and ads? Let’s just say I can’t wait ’til this hits streaming, so I can parcel things out in more bite-sized bits. Y’all I am An Old. My legs did not want to speak to me after this screening, so what I’m saying is; get yourself reclining seats, or be prepared for your own body’s civil war. Lil’ tip from me to you. So, here we go with the in-depth stuff. Follow me…

Since I only have one quibble (shut up, legs; you’re fine now) that bleeds into a few areas of the film, let’s dig into the good, ‘kay? Because there’s a lot to love about Forever. First thing you’ll notice is the absolute gorgeousness of the film. Autumn Durald Arkapaw takes over from Rachel Morrison as DP, and upholds the lush, crystal-clear, gorgeousness of Wakanda, as well as the gritty world outside it. Arkapaw even manages to get the underwater scenes to shine, putting DCs Aquaman to shame. (Yeah I said it.) Add in the gorgeous art direction, costuming, and sets, that give Forever a real-world feel even with the fantasy elements, and it’s a visual banquet. If, like me, you’re a “what’s it look like” junkie? There’s so much going on onscreen that it’ll take a few viewings to really sink into the various aesthetics.

Then there’s the performances. Angela Bassett gives Diva Queen with every world, glance, and movement. It’s a brilliant performance, and luckily those working with her keep up. The characters in and around Wakanda who knew T’Challa best all tread the line between deeply hurt and broken, without turning things into over-the-top histrionics. That’s a testament to Coogler’s direction and the skills of the cast. You will feel all the emotions. You will need all the tissues. Plus, the way Forever shifts gears from T’Challa to the next chapter of Wakandan history feels honest, with all the drifting, confusion, and rising up flowing naturally.

But. Here’s the thing. Namor/Tenoch and his kingdom of Atlantis Tālocān feel like brief sketches next to the in-depth work done moving Wakanda (and the characters we’ve come to know) forward. Yes, we get the gist of Namor’s life, his people, and the how and why of his various storyline beefs. It’s a lot though, so much falls between the cracks, requiring constant eagle-eye focus on the film and all its subplots. And again, the film is almost three hours long. My brain is basically a BB ricocheting around a tuna can – thank you for that analogy, Dave Barry – so that was tough for me. So Many Subplots + Movie Length + Body Aches = AFan Praying For Things To Wrap Up Already. Especially as Namor is kind of a big deal in Marvel Comics, so actually hoping for Wakanda to beat the [RADIO EDIT] out of his people, or Namor slaughtering Wakandans in the name of the movie’s beefs? The film lost me. I couldn’t seem to drum up the emotional response I’m sure Coogler wanted. That, and it felt a bit like Killmonger II: But Different Tho, in terms of the overall arc of the Namor/Wakandan clashes. Killmonger’s arc was done better, and I couldn’t help but think on that as things played out.

Then there’s a new character introduced that could have been completely cut out of the film without causing a single bit of plot or storyline upset. Do I like this new character? HECK YEAH. Did I think said character needed to be introduced here, when Forever was already dealing with grieving T’Challa, moving forward, Namor and his people, and the freaking world stage as it pertains to Wakanda? Nope. Not at all. This character could have been a great way to bring in Phase 5, especially with the performer’s onscreen energy and overall…gumption? Grit? Coolness? Yes, coolness. To quote Mrs. Lovett? Seems an awful waste, the shoehorning of this character into a film already busting at the seams.

As the final hurrah of Marvel’s Phase 4, Forever is big and bombastic enough to serve as Important Stuff Moving Forward. Though as 4 hasn’t exactly been the best phase of the MCU (I’m still sore about messy Madness) But fans who want to pay tribute to the glorious Chadwick Boseman will find plenty to love, and tear up over. Seriously; I’ve read/heard a few people complaining that Forever doesn’t pay enough tribute to the performer. But they obviously hadn’t been paying attention. It’s in ever Wakandan scene. In the start of the film. In the mid-credits scene (no end-of-credits scene though, so you can bounce after the real credits roll.) Plus, the Marvel logo at the start of the film is 100% Chadwick, and a beautiful touch. I’m just hoping Wakanda, and Tlālōcān, shake off the weight of too much all at once, and are allowed to develop at a more unrushed pace from now on. I’m giving the overlong and messy bits a pass this time, because all in all Forever does what it set out to do; deal with a seemingly insurmountable task, and do it well. 80% Success ain’t bad. I’d have rung in at about -3% at best.

#Protip: DAT SOUNDTRACK AND SCORE. Yes it’s glorious and amazing. But. You’ve gotta watch this fantastic look at the creation of the music that moves this film. Incredible info!

About Denise

Professional nerd. Lover of licorice.
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