“BLACK PANTHER: WAKANDA FOREVER”
Starring Letitia Wright, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Winston Duke, Angela Bassett, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Martin Freeman
Written by Ryan Coogler and Joe Robert Cole
Story by Ryan Coogler
Based on the Black Panther comic book character created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby
Directed by Ryan Coogler
Produced by Kevin Feige and Nate Moore
By Matt Neufeld
Nov. 11, 2022
Yet again, yet another over-buzzed, over-hyped, over-produced, over-done, over-everything comic book superhero movie arrives with a resounding whimper and flop and ends up being a dour, bleak, wholly un-enjoyable disappoinment: “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” is the latest entry in this increasingly, wearily long list of movie duds.
DisneyMarvel and Warner Bros.DCComics keep getting told–clearly, harshly, directly, universally–to simply step back, take a deep breath, re-think the entire comic book superhero movie game plan and, really, just give the whole dern thing a much-needed, long-deserved, long-overdue rest and break, but no matter how hard they try, they just keep getting pulled back into the abyss, with increasingly lower-quality, disappointing results. This year, 2022, has simply been one of the absolute worst years at movie theaters for the genre, as “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness,” “Thor: Love and Thunder,” “Black Adam” and now “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” have all been roundly, soundly, poundingly, houndingly huge disappointments. Simply stated, they’re not good movies. They all register as the same thing, they’re all cookie-cutter, formulaic, unoriginal copies of each other, and they all falter in the very basic main areas of filmmaking–namely, production, direction, writing, acting, editing, timing, pacing and, at times, even cinematography.
Alas, “Wakanda” falters in these main areas as well. The dialogue, script, story, plot and sub-plots are rote, trite, cliched, leaden and un-original. The acting is strangely overly-serious, plastic, lacking in basic relatable qualities, emotionless despite a desperate need for a range of emotions, horribly arrogant and self-centered to the point of nearly being unwatchable, and way too self-aware. The direction is also leaden, poorly-paced and poorly-timed, unable to adequately capture the needed chemistry and energy to convey the needed emotions, too reliant on special effects, action scenes and fight scenes, none of which are particularly original, and oddly unable to overcome the bland script. Although the special effects, location scenery, production design, art direction, set design, costuming, hair and make-up are indeed all actually above-average and dazzling, the movie squanders all of this amid its other, smothering, negative aspects and characteristics.
Once again: A movie can have the literal very best, most well-presented, most beautiful, most technologically-advanced and most dazzling special effects and overall production design and artistic excellence in the technical areas of the project, but if the entire rest of the movie doesn’t have the same consistent levels of excellence, all of that concurrent production and artistic and special effects work just can’t, and won’t, save the film.
This is, again, precisely what occurs with “Wakanda.”
The movie picks up the action in the fictional nation of Wakanda after the real-life events that changed everything for this film series storyline: The tragic, sad, sorrowful death of the talented actor Chadwick Boseman, who played the lead character of Black Panther, or King T’Challa, in 2018’s “Black Panther,” on August 28, 2020, at the age of 43 from colon cancer. With Boseman’s death, the “Wakanda” sequel starts with the nation of Wakanda mourning the loss of their leader who was played by Boseman, and with the characters struggling to pick themselves up and carry on. Alas, and this is not a snarky, sarcastic or insensitive comment but an accurate statement, the movie does not find, capture or present an adequate character or actor or storyline to reliably move ahead and forward from T’Challa’s–and Boseman’s–deaths. And that is essentially a testament to Boseman’s unique, understated, difficult-to-define energy, chemistry and presence: No one in “Wakanda” matches or resembles that unique set of acting factors that Boseman possessed as the king. And that resonates as a major negative sticking point for the sequel.
If a sequel cannot adequately overcome or compensate for the overriding, overarching, all-consuming loss of it’s lead actor and lead character, then, well, the movie is just not going to succeed. “Wakanda” is indeed full of powerful, talented actors who are indeed good, strong, solid actors–but none of them have the same levels of depth, presence and unique, understated energy that Boseman possessed. One wonders, actually, if DisneyMarvel should have perhaps waited a bit longer to revisit this particular franchise and storyline.
Nevertheless, after the citizens of Wakanda mourn their king, well, thing don’t get much better, in regards to the movie’s story and the quality of the movie itself. For some strange, unclear reason, when moviegoers needed to see this proud, independent, unique, one-of-a-kind nation lift itself up, take a strong position in world diplomatic, defense, educational, technological, engineering, cultural and social matters and affairs, and work with the rest of the planet to make things better and more productive and peaceful, what we get instead is the complete opposite, and man is it all just one complete
If you can believe it, this is what the “Wakanda” movie strangely presents: The country of Wakanda is weirdly wallowing in some type of moronic cold war cloud and web of mistrust, conspiracy-mongering and deception with the United States, France and, apparently, much of the rest of the world. There’s idiotic disagreement about how to handle Wakanda’s unique and powerful natural resource, vibranium. There’s a moronic and idiotic war with some undersea race of fish-people, who also have vibranium. There’s the usual, poorly-handled, ridiculously-scripted movie fantasies about the CIA–enough already!!–and other shadowy government agencies and officials–enough already!! And a major character dies without any clear plot-related or story-related reason for the character to die–absolutely none.
And, on top of all of that, the movie manages to misuse the unique talents of the great Martin Freeman. And, unbelievably, the movie casts the usually-likeable Julia Louis-Dreyfus as the most cold-hearted, steely, icy and unlikeable character who Louis-Dreyfus has ever played–and that is not enjoyable or fun to watch. It just doesn’t register. Julia–why on earth did you take this part? Every actor wants to stretch their range, which is understandable, of course. But the key to stretching one’s acting range is choosing just the right parts to make those stretches. This role of a cold, manipulative, decidedly unlikeable CIA boss just does not connect with Louis-Dreyfuss.
This particular role should have gone to Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Faye Dunaway or Peta Wilson. Now that would have been something to watch!
Additionally, the movie has many of Wakanda’s leaders strangely scattered and scattershot, geographically and psychologically. They are all wayward from each other, they’re all bickering and fighting like characters on a bad daytime soap opera, barely anyone has a sense of humor, and humor or other likeable human traits are not present in adequate supply. Thus, the movie’s main characters appear as wayward, confused and depressing as the movie’s equally wayward, confusing and depressing plot, subplots and overall story. That’s not fun to watch, either.
In the end, as “Wakanda” slowly trudges and stumbles on for a bloated, ridiculous two-and-a-half hours, the cold war, bickering, confusing story, depressing characters and war with the undersea kingdom never fully connect, resonate or satisfy.
Much of the blame for “Wakanda’s” disappointing results has to rest with director and co-writer Ryan Coogler and producer Kevin Feige. Coogler needed a better, more positive and more inspiring script and story and more likeable characters, and Feige needed to rein in the entire production as a more approachable, relatable and likeable movie.
Unfortunately, the future looks bleak for the comic book superhero genre at the movies, as a tired, unoriginal slew of overly-familiar titles are scheduled for release in 2023 and 2024—-including, if you can possibly believe it, another Aquaman movie, another Guardians of the Galaxy movie, another Spider-Man movie, another Captain Marvel movie, another Blade movie and another Flash movie. I kid you not. This is not a joke.
Meanwhile, the end of 2022 arrives with the news that two of the major movie theatrical chains are struggling for their lives. Cineworld, which owns Regal Cinemas, has declared bankruptcy. AMC, the movie theater chain, recently reported a
third quarter loss of a whopping $226.9 million.
Well, it’s no surprise. If clueless movie studio and production company suits continue to try and
depend primarily on a seemingly endless sad parade of over-done, over-expensive, un-original and ultimately disappointing comic book superhero movies at the expense of more intelligent, intellectual, insightful and original films, then this vicious circle of movie hell will only continue, and the real-life moviegoing landscape will increasingly appear as apocalyptic as the scenarios in many of these on-screen movies. And that’s a sad ending that no one wants to watch fade to black.