Queen Ramonda, Shuri, M’Baku, Okoye and the Dora Milaje fight to protect their nation from intervening world powers in the wake of King T’Challa’s death. As the Wakandans strive to embrace their next chapter, the heroes must band together with Nakia and Everett Ross to forge a new path for their beloved kingdom…
Review by Tim Robins
Marvel returns to the hidden kingdom of Wakanda, sans actor Chadwick Boseman, the titular Black Panther, who died unexpectedly of colon cancer after the first movie. Rather than recast Boseman’s T’Challa, the script elevates his science-whiz sister, Shuri (Letitia Wright), to don the mantle of the Black Panther.
The plot is structured around the post-mortem power vacuum, which sees no lesser evil nation than France try to steal vibranium from under the noses of the Wakandans, unaware that an underwater empire led by Namor (Tenoch Huerta Mejia) has first dibs on a new source of the powerful ore from outer space.
The story does flail around when trying to set up the hotly anticipated fight between Wakanda and the sea-dwelling subjects of Namor, here the ruler of the sunken surf-dom of Talocan. Tediously, the film is also tasked with setting up a number of other Marvel products: Okoye and Aneka, aka The Midnight Angels, and Riri Williams aka Ironheart.
Martin Freeman also pops up, reprising his role as a cuddly CIA agent, but, frankly, only seems here for the forthcoming Ironheart TV series and Armor Wars movie.
The plot is certainly sprawling, emulating the story threads of the modern Black Panther comics, and I wasn’t sure I was up to taking its cod geo-politics seriously. But it is the main cast who make the film emotionally involving. Angela Bassett is a commanding presence as Queen Ramonda, and the moral and physical conflict between Wright and Mejia is compelling – and serves to give the inevitable CGI fight at the end more interest.
I particularly welcomed the way the script dialled back the jokiness and gave plenty of room for character development. There was a moment near the beginning of the film when I balked at the idea of spending over two hours getting into the film’s pseudo-politics, but Wakanda Forever worked overtime to build its world of hidden peoples and, in this, was more successful than The Eternals in convincing me that there was even more super-powered characters populating Marvel’s universe than we previously expected.
I was particularly interested in how the MCU would distinguish Namor from Aquaman. As much as I like Namor, one of Marvel’s earliest Golden Age, he has tended to be a one-note, angry man in a pair of trunks. The script gives the character a whole new origin, explaining how his subjects, basically Aztecs beneath the sea, came to turn blue and breath underwater.
(I wholly approve of the decision to keep Namor’s ankle wings. They look ridiculous, but so does everything else, although a lot of care has gone into making Namor’s battalion of sea life look a lot more credible than Aquaman’s).
There were a few moments where I felt decidedly uneasy. The dancing and drum beating at T’Challa’s funeral echoed tribal scenes in old Tarzan movies and even King Kong. When M’Baku (Winston Duke) and his tribe of The White Gorillas turn up, beating their chests and making chimp-like ooo-ooo-ooo noises, my embarrassment deepened.
When it was first created, Wakanda was based on an enduring trope, that, surprise! “Primitive” African tribes people actually have super advanced technology. But the reactionary implications of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s creation are now seen in a more positive light, as “Afrofuturism”, which asserts that African-Americans can lead sci-fi lives in the future, just as white folk have. So, I’m really going to have to raise my personal bar for what counts as derogatory representations of “race”.
There are interesting parallels to be drawn between the blue-hued vibranium and the discovery, in 2014, of Cobalt deposits in the Southern Congo. There’s a grittier, more socially and politically grounded Wakanda buried beneath Hollywood’s flim-flam.
For me, the White Gorilla in the room is the absence of the Fantastic Four, whose comic introduced the Black Panther and re-introduced Namor to the 1960s comic-reading public. I think that MCU would have had a very different feel, if it had been built around comics’ first family, and we saw the Inhumans, Namor’s world and Wakanda through the wide-eyed and softer heart of Mr Fantastic and co. For a start, there might be a whole less emphasis on war.
As the end credits roll, we are reassured that “The Black Panther Will Return”, and a mid-end credit scene suggests how that might occur. I must admit, I was more than a bit bewildered by the way Wakanda Forever had held my interest. Despite following the MCU structure, the film is a welcome sea change. See it and be prepared to be similarly swept away.
• Wakanda Forever is screening in cinemas across the UK now
New Panini Black Panther Collections
Marking the release of Wakanda Forever, Panini UK has recently released two Black Panther-related collections, Marvel Platinum: The Definitive Black Panther Reloaded, offering plenty of background to the geo politics featured in the film, and Marvel Select Black Panther: Who is The Black Panther?, the latter widely available through WHSmith as well as book and comic shops.
There’s and overlap of content – almost all the strips featured in the Marvel Select package feature in the Platinum Edition – but for sheer action adventure and great characterisation, many may prefer the slimmer Marvel Select release, written by Reginald Hudlin, with cracking art from John Romita Jr. The Platinum package does include some great classic tales, and an excellent taste of writer Christopher Priest‘s take on Black Panther, but you may still find yourselves bewildered by an immersion into the politics of Marvel Earth, fascinating though such world building is. We’re also treated to some excellent stories featuring the villainous Klaw, too. But for entertainment value, the Marvel Select collection more than satisfies!
• Marvel Select Black Panther: Who is The Black Panther? (Amazon UK Affiliate Link)
by Reginald Hudlin (Writer), John Romita Jr. (Artist
Witness the Black Panther’s triumphant return in cinematic style, with a new modern origin that’s sure to excite all true believers! Wakanda stands unconquered – but for how long? As a legion of super-powered mercenaries gathers at the border, King T’Challa readies his forces. But there’s a deadly surprise in store for the new Black Panther as the battle brings him face-to-face with a hated foe from his past – Ulysses Klaw, the man who murdered his father!
Reprinting Black Panther #1-6
T’Challa is the king of Wakanda, an African nation that is the most technologically advanced society in the world and sits upon the largest deposit of an extremely rare natural resource called vibranium. As king, T’Challa bears the ceremonial title that has been born by all his predecessors. He is the spiritual leader of their nation, the defender of Wakanda, the hunter in the dark. T’Challa is… the Black Panther! Marvel Platinum: The Black Panther Reloaded brings together the very best tales from the character’s and Wakanda’s 50-plus years of history.
Collecting Avengers #62, Astonishing Tales #6-7, Defenders #84, Black Panther Vol. 3 #26-29, Black Panther Vol. 4 #1 & Black Panther Vol. 5 #5-6