‘Black Panther: Wakanda Forever’ lacks originality

The long-awaited sequel falls short of expectations


Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

In “Wakanda Forever,” Marvel continues its 2022 slide in quality.

Conor Metzger, Staff Writer

Coming into this year, I had high hopes for the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) and its planned release schedule. Doctor Strange, Thor, Black Panther — all sequels to some of the best films the MCU has put out. But then reality set in, and I watched as “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” being crushed under the weight of setting up new content while “Thor: Love and Thunder” couldn’t live up to its predecessor. Now, “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” has hit the screens and somehow has managed to fail in both of the previous regards.
To start with the bright spots of the film, the introduction of the main villain Namor is well done, as the connection between his sea-dwelling culture to Mesoamerican culture is reminiscent of how well the “Black Panther” movies portray often-underrepresented cultures.

The tribute to Chadwick Boseman, the lead actor who played T’Challa in the first “Black Panther”, is also a highlight and shows proper respect to an actor who paved the way for Black superhero representation.
Unfortunately, my positive review stops there. From the beginning, it is clear that the death of Boseman put the production of the film in a rather disorienting space. It is obvious that they simply changed a couple of plot points and replaced T’Challa with Shuri (Letitia Wright). Wright gave a stellar performance, but due to the audience only being slightly familiar with her from the previous films, her motivations are not always clear.
The film also has an issue in not knowing who the main character is, shifting between Shuri and her mother, Ramonda (Angela Bassett), while not letting the audience truly get to know either of them. This is a problem with a lot of MCU movies today, as they go from either quippy dialogue to quick-cut action scenes and then don’t give the characters breathing room to express their emotions — save for an occasional passionate speech that ends up contributing little to the plot.
I think Wright and Basset both do a great job with what they were given, but the film attempts to characterize Ramonda as an angry mother and Shuri as a vengeful sister, all the while not explaining why they would be this way. It also doesn’t help that the movie is somehow nearly three hours long yet still averaged what couldn’t have been more than five minutes per scene, choosing to shift focus away from the main characters and focus on side characters that the audience hasn’t had time to care about. Because we never really got to know Shuri or Ramonda in the first film, the audience has to quickly care about them and six different people in one hour before the plot even really starts.
As for the plot, the dynamic between Wakanda and Talokan shows some promise as we see two powerful civilizations share a cause in wanting to protect themselves from the outside world. If this sounds familiar, then you may have watched the first “Black Panther” with a simple find-and-replace of “Killmonger” with “Namor” because the progression is nearly the same. This in particular has shown that Marvel movies continue to pivot to reliable plot points for the sake of safe, formulaic content.
“Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” is the latest example of how the MCU is struggling to cast innovation with quality, as they try to introduce new characters to play into formulaic plots. If given the time and pacing, Shuri could have been a compelling new superhero with a complex emotional range. Instead, she goes through the basic “dead relative” development without focusing on anything that may be original to her character. While this is going on, the movie is trying to make me care about people who have no backstory nor a clear motivation. All this ends up creating a sense of disappointment in fans as we get a taste of what the movie could have been, all the while being denied access to a thoughtful, character-driven film.