Black Panther: Wakanda Forever
Stars: Tenoch Huerta, Letitia Wright, Angela Bassett, Dominique Thorne, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Winston Duke, Martin Freeman
All the requisite ingredients are here in this sequel to hugely successful afro-futurist Marvel picture ‘Black Panther’, which arrives just over two years after the untimely death of the original's star, Chadwick Boseman, but it's marred by an excessive running time and muddled execution.
It opens promisingly as Shuri (Letitia Wright) the scientist sister of King of Wakanda T’Challa desperately tries in vain to save her brother’s life. The subsequent funeral scene is tastefully elegiac, thanks in no small part to Wright, and serves as a tastefully tribute to Boesman. Following T’Challa’s burial, the sceptic Shuri has a heated exchange with her mother Queen Ramonda (Bassett) about faith versus science, the efficacy of faith being a recurring theme.
Cut to the South Atlantic where a research vessel looking for the precious material vibranium, hitherto only found in Wakanda, is attacked by a band of aquatic warriors led my Namor (Huerta) the fierce king of an Aztec-style underwater kingdom Talokan. Namor, for historical reasons, wishes to keep his homeland a secret from rapacious land dwellers. The sequence with the blue-skinned Talokans rising from the ocean while their siren songs draw the ship’s crew to their death is one of Marvel’s eeriest moments to date.
Believing teenage science genius Riri Williams (Thorne), the inventor of the vibranium detector, to be the next Talokan target, Shuri along with fearsome Wakandan elite Dora Milaje warrior Okoye (Gurira) sets off the US to protect her. After a raid, Shuri and Riri are taken to Namor’s wondrous underwater kingdom. As his homeland possesses massive reserves of vibranium just like Wakanda, Namor suggests to Shuri an alliance between the kingdoms and all-out war on exploitative land dwellers.
Namor is a compellingly conflicted antagonist with the comparisons he draws between Talokan and Shuri’s home forcing her to reflect on Wakanda’s own isolationist stance. Does their encounter contain a ‘We’re not so unalike you and I’ speech? It does.
Alas, scrappy plotting, choppy editing and overwrought and rote CGI fight scenes, means that the picture, over its two-and-a-half running time, feels at once over-extended & truncated. Wright promoted to lead here, more or less the carries the film through choppy waters as the grieving Shuri weighs up her character weighs up her options between vengeance and peaceful co-existence. New additions to the cast aren’t as successful: Dominique Thorne’s Riri has an irreverent attitude but not much else by way of character; Michaela Coel is fun and intriguing as mischievously rebellious Dora Milaje warrior Aneka, but the sketchiness of her character suggests that some of her scenes may have ended up on the cutting room floor. A mid-credits teaser sequence feels more beholden to franchise dictates than good storytelling.
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is released on 11th November
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