Murphy’s Team-Up Volume 28: Reviewing ‘Black Panther: Wakanda Forever’

Marvel Studios’ final Phase 4 theatrical release, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, hit theaters this weekend. You can read Hunter Radesi’s advance review here, but what did the rest of the team think? We team up to share our thoughts.

Mary Rowe

Overall, I think I loved Wakanda Forever as a total package, but I think I may have enjoyed it in the theater a little less than others seemed to. The overarching concept and plot for me was a 10/10, the actors and their performances were a 10/10, Namor was a 10/10, and the excruciating emotional heaviness that felt like a constant crushing sensation was a 12/10. Substantively, for me, the film was absolutely masterful in those regards. I did find it overly packed with what it wanted to do, and it was something I felt like I noticed frequently while I was watching it. Some amazing scenes felt abruptly cut short before transitioning a bit awkwardly to other (sometimes jarringly different) scenes. I struggled with Riri’s role in the film. I loved the character and Dominique Thorne, but Namor’s sole motivation being to kill her did not make a ton of sense. Clearly, others knew how to make the vibranium-sensing machines based on her invention and the general threat from world forces to find vibranium would never be solved by killing one scientist. So the driving force of the overarching plot felt weak, and Ironheart’s big role took up too much time and attention from the rest of the film, which was far more compelling. Val’s role in the film seemed absolutely unnecessary, especially since she really did not do anything that set up any other project in any way. A lot of people refer to a Thunderbolts setup, but literally at no time was that project actually set up or advanced in any way. Even if it was, the side plot of the U.S. government considering taking (idiotic) action against Wakanda was OK, but had too much time given to it. I think the film overall is a triumph, and it is wild how big of a film it is considering it is technically a solo sequel. I also think it is not discussed enough how the film is led by women and easily the most representative MCU film in that regard. I would be genuinely surprised if Angela Bassett did not get an Oscar nod for her performance, and I think the film (like its predecessor) has a strong chance at a Best Picture nod as well.

Joao Pinto

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is nothing short of an incredible achievement given the terrible circumstances its development faced. But even though I’ve been a strong proponent that, following the tragic death of Chadwick Boseman, Marvel Studios should not recast the role, there is no denying that that choice would present a few issues when it came to the project’s script and overall tone. Acknowledging Boseman’s passing would imbue the feature with almost inescapable emotional gravitas, something that would make everything else a Marvel movie is known to feature pale in comparison. And, in my opinion, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever struggles when trying to mesh everything into a single vision, revealing itself as a bit unfocused when moving from one thematical approach to another. 

All in all, honoring Boseman’s legacy all while expanding on the Black Panther mythos, introducing an entirely new civilization and its background, moving the Cinematic Universe forward by hinting at several future projects, and doing all of it in a little less than 3 hours would always be a herculean task. What Ryan Coogler managed to deliver is about as good as one could expect given the hand he was dealt, and the entire cast was pretty much brilliant in the way their performances honored both their characters and their friend.

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever will surely be widely regarded as a standout project within a franchise with an already extremely high bar. It will be revisited countless times. and I’m sure time will keep doing it justice given the way it sets up the MCU’s future as well as it warm-heartedly honors its past.

Anthony Canton III

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is an emotional sledgehammer and a necessary one for all parties involved. Ryan Coogler’s effort is full of all the emotions one can go through in dealing with the loss of a loved one. It is the truest of parallels from real life to screen. Chadwick Boseman’s absence is felt in this film and I say it endearingly. The director and cast wanted us to know this and didn’t hold back in expressing it as such. There are MCU ties sure, but this movie is more than that. From Angela Bassett’s Oscar-worthy performance of a heartbroken Queen to Letitia Wright’s powerful showcase as Shuri, we were reminded that these people went through this hurt on a grander level. It was touching, it was angry, and it was chaotic at times. Most importantly, it was real.

The stages of grief, from regret to outright frustration were transferred to the viewer. Through Tenoch Huerta’s explosive arrival to the MCU as Namor, we saw a window into what endless vengeance could look like. Through it all, the end of the film is a stark example of life. There are the darkest of times, but through it all there is the simplest sliver of hope, and that hope saves. Salute to Ryan Coogler and the cast for making an unforgettable movie.

Torbjorn Frazier

There genuinely isn’t a Marvel Studios movie, let alone a major blockbuster film, like Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. The themes of grief and loss are explored in such a visceral way that are greatly unexpected, even with an understanding of what the film would be going into it. Ryan Coogler adeptly leads the audience through an odyssey of emotions that lead to hopefully some closure for the legacy of Chadwick Boseman. With that, the director proves himself to be truly one of the best of his generation. Each of the leads brings their best into their performances and highlights why Wakanda deserves to have a marquee role in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). Special attention needs to be placed on Tenoch Huerta Mejía as Namor, who provides the MCU with another all-time great antagonist and a character that should be primed for a massive role in various future projects (and rightfully so).

Though with that in mind, it does lead to the one noticeable folly I had with the film. While the threads being set up are certainly interesting, essentially all of the content involving Martin Freeman and Julia Louis-Dreyfus would’ve been way better served in a different project (ie Secret Invasion or Ironheart). The extensive runtime of the film isn’t an issue at all, but it would’ve been much better served to focus directly on the themes of grief and legacy alongside the conflict with Talokan. There are some noticeable nitpicks with the film, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever absolutely sings in the parts where it needed to, and that’s what matters most at the end of the day. It’s a bonafide 9/10 in my book.

Dalbin Osorio

10/10. Zero notes.

Seriously, it was that good. Namor was incredible, and I think that’s a good place to start. This isn’t a villain who you root for because he’s conflicted: this is a villain that you root for because he’s 100% right in a way that Killmonger was not. His warning about other nations coming for Wakanda seems incredibly predictive, given that it seems Val (hello CIA Director) is sending the Thunderbolts in to get it. His mistrust of the surface world drives him to seclude his Kingdom much like the Wakandans and Wakanda. The parallels between him and T’Challa are hard to ignore, and I can’t help but wonder how powerful T’Challa versus Namor would’ve been.

However, Shuri more than holds her own weight. Her arc, like Okoye and M’Baku, is earned. That’s the best thing I can say about this movie: every choice is earned, and there are actual consequences to decisions made in the first. It’s what you want to see in these sequels. Riri Williams is a star, and I cannot wait to see her build her Mark 3 suit and battle The Hood. Angela Bassett deserves all the praise: her grief as she banishes Okoye was palpable, and Bassett remains one of the more underrated actresses of our time. It’s Marvel’s best sequel, and if Ryan Coogler can stick the landing in the third Black Panther film, it will be Marvel’s best trilogy.

Charles Murphy

It has never seemed fair to critique a movie for what it is not, but it’s nearly impossible to think about what Black Panther: Wakanda Forever could have been with Chadwick Boseman. Though the film was reworked after Boseman’s passing, the shadow of what it was is still visible. Boseman’s death turned the cast and crew of Wakanda Forever inside-out and the film necessarily expresses their grief and mourning; it would have been impossible to make the sequel without addressing it. The cast and crew handled this with incredible poise and their work was beautiful.

As writer/director Ryan Coogler has pointed out, Namor was always on track to be the villain of Wakanda Forever. The introduction of one of Marvel Comics’ oldest and greatest characters needed to be done no a big stage and it was. The choice to adapt Wakanda vs. Atlantis into the film was ballsy. Add to it the choice to completely reinvent Atlantis into Talokan and provide a backstory to it that was on par with the one given to Wakanda in Black Panther was even ballsier. The cast and crew nailed this. Talokan was beautiful. Namor was every bit who he should have been. Maybe the action wasn’t 10/10, but it was plenty.

Wakanda Forever, ultimately, had to try to balance these two stories and blend them into one coherent film. It did that unequivocally. However, it was the ancillary plot that threw the film off-kilter. Despite Dominque Thorne crushing her role as Riri Williams, the character’s arc in the film never felt as though it fit smoothly. Even less smooth was the inclusion of CIA Director Valentina Allegra de Fontaine in what seemed to be nothing more than a set-up for another project and a poor one at that.

The principal cast all delivered monster performances. Letitia Wright’s performance hasn’t garnered anywhere near enough praise. Tenoch Huerta gave Namor all the edges he should have and still made him just likable enough. Angela Bassett went off. Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira and Winston Duke were all given opportunities to mourn their onscreen and real-life friend AND be a part of the other arc as well. One would have to think the entire experience was cathartic for them all.

Incredible performances. Two impossible stories intertwined into one. Just a few speed bumps along the way. As always, I’ll have to see it again to really know where it fits, but I do know this: unlike some of Marvel Studios’ recent theatrical releases, at least I WANT to see it again.

Joseph Aberl

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is a film that explores grief in a complex world that wants you to push forward. Most of the film’s conflict centers around Letitia Wright‘s Shuri and Angela Basset‘s powerful performance as Queen Ramonda, who bring their A-game to this film. One can feel that this is an emotional journey for everyone involved, especially with how difficult it must be to handle the tragedy of Chadwick Boseman.

Tenoch Huerta is a new powerhouse and a reminder of the star power that Marvel Studios creates with its projects. He brings a balance to Namor that wasn’t going to be easy to handle by introducing him as the film’s main antagonist but they pull it off. While the film can drag at one point or another, it feels like a project that wants to take its time. And, it’s something we don’t see often in these bombastic larger-than-life films. The film doesn’t want to run away from the grief but forces us to face its consequences through many eyes.

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