REVIEW: ‘Wakanda Forever’ mostly flops as a follow-up

After his tragic passing at 43, Chadwick Boseman’s absence looms large, both in the world of film and specifically in this sequel to “Black Panther.”

“Wakanda Forever” picks up after King T’Challa dies from an unknown illness, leaving the nation without its leader and main protector. With T’Challa now gone, his mother Ramonda (Angela Bassett), assumes the throne while his sister Shuri (Letitia Wright) feels tremendous guilt that she wasn’t able to find a way to cure him in time.

Both women have to continue serving their nation as new threats arise, though, as other countries are now looking for  Wakanda’s precious resource, vibranium. Because of this happening, a new, powerful threat emerges from the sea. To protect their home, Ramonda and Shuri have to work with existing and new allies.

“Wakanda Forever” was a project that was bound to be tough to pull off. On top of being a sequel to an enormously successful and acclaimed film, it also likely had to change direction in story because of Boseman’s passing. Unfortunately, the film falls short of the expectations, even after they were tempered by those factors.

One of the biggest issues with the “Black Panther” sequel is how bloated it feels. It’s usually the case that a sequel is going to be on a bigger scale than the first installment. However, this can sometimes be a problem as a movie can narratively bite off more than it can chew.

It’s happened before in other Marvel Cinematic Universe films, such as “Iron Man 2,” and it’s the case here as well. “Wakanda Forever” has too much going on, not only making it far too long, but also rather messy, too.

BLACK PANTHER: WAKANDA FOREVER
Courtesy Marvel Studios

A prime example of something that didn’t really need to be included was the character Riri Williams, AKA Ironheart. She’s a fine character and fits in the MCU space overall, but dedicating screentime for her to have an entire arc feels unnecessary and causes characters to go on extra quests that just pad the runtime.

Another example is Martin Freeman’s special agent character Everett Ross. Yes, he played a role in the first movie, but he just feels tacked on here. Plus, the movie bloats its runtime just to tie Ross to Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ character who runs a secret agency, simply as a way to preview more MCU stuff.

Additionally, the film seems to run on too long because of the villains, as there’s a boatload of exposition that comes along with their introduction. It becomes exhausting.

As the audience learns, the big bad in this feature is Namor, a man who rules an underwater civilization of humanoid beings who’re able to live in the ocean. Their society also uses vibranium, and he blames Wakanda for revealing the resource to the rest of the world, as it has led other countries to search for it, disturbing their home.

It’s not a bad concept for a conflict, but the execution feels entirely botched. The politics at play, mostly between Namor and Shuri, is stilted with little nuance, coming across like something akin to the “Star Wars” prequels, which is certainly not a compliment. 

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It doesn’t help that Namor isn’t all that great of a villain. The MCU has had villain issues in the past, but even some of their more generic ones, such as Iron Monger, was played by the charismatic Jeff Bridges. Tenoch Huerta, meanwhile, brings little passion to the role and isn’t all that menacing, a far cry from Killmonger in the first “Black Panther.”

Also, Namor is a bad guy with little wings on his ankles allowing him to fly, which is just lame. It’s like something you’d see in a “Peter Pan” movie. The way the conflicts with the main characters are resolved in the messy final battle leaves a lot to be desired, too.

The lack of T’Challa was also rather noticeable, as Letitia Wright’s Shuri is just not nearly as compelling for a main character. She worked as a side character in the first movie, but in the spotlight she just seems out of place.

Her character arc seems to bounce around with a few concepts before the film settles on the direction she will go for the final act. Wright also gives a less than memorable performance in the lead role.

The movie’s supporting cast is, in all fairness, pretty good. Plus, the movie boasts a few solid action scenes, although the final climactic encounter feels sloppy. Overall, though, the picture is over stuffed, too long, and yet at the same time, seems one dimensional. It’s a disappointing 2.5 out of 5.

Author: Matthew Liedke

Journalist and film critic in Minnesota. Graduate of Rainy River College and Minnesota State University in Moorhead. Outside of movies I also enjoy sports, craft beers and the occasional video game.

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