Wednesday, November 9, 2022

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever


King T’Challa’s untimely death sets the world up on a mad scramble for Wakanda’s Vibranium resources. Unable to penetrate the country’s defenses, the CIA leads an underwater expedition to look for the precious element elsewhere in the deep, unwittingly unearthing a lost civilization harboring their own natural trove of Vibranium reserves. Unlike Wakanda, Talokan has no intention of revealing itself to the surface world, a sentiment made perfectly clear by its king Namor (Tenoch Huerta), a centuries-old mutant with winged ankles who pays Wakanda a visit to find out whether they are ally or foe. As the two nations jostle for jurisdiction over Riri Williams (Dominique Thorne), the student who invented the Vibranium locator used to find Talokan, Shuri (Letitia Wright) and her mother Queen Ramonda (Angela Bassett) must play their cards right especially now that their kingdom’s survival is at stake in the absence of a Black Panther.

There is no end credits scene. Don’t waste your time waiting until the end. The mid-credits scene is not really a teaser but more of an extended epilogue introducing a new character that serves as a tribute, both charming and touching, to the late Chadwick Boseman. The twist does not really have any immediate ramifications on the MCU as a whole, at least for now, but can be used as a convenient plot point later on for this particular installment.

The first Black Panther film had a rather simple storyline but was universally regarded as a monumental cultural event that had to be celebrated. You can’t top that. What the storyline could’ve been for this sequel if Boseman were still around is anybody’s guess, but his unfortunate passing did pave the way for Part Two to be some sort of a hodgepodge of various character introductions. Riri Williams, for example, feels like she was just shoehorned here as an awareness campaign for her upcoming Disney+ series.

On the contrary, they couldn’t have selected a better MCU property for the debut of Namor and friends, even more so now with his retconned origins story utilized to raise the flag of yet another underrepresented demographic in Hollywood. Hey, if the first Black Panther managed to offer an empowering iteration of pan-Africa, why not do the same for Mesoamerica? What you end up with is a literal clash of cultures that is as engaging as it is intriguing. A lot of people will be pissed off by this, of course. Just give them their safe space to cry. After all, they’ve been doing that oh so loudly for quite some time now.

This does not mean, however, that this film is spotless. This intricate web of new characters galore means a longer runtime of over two hours, much of it employed for character and world building instead of epic fight scenes, which are few and far between. This gives the material a rather somber tone perfect for honoring a fallen Black Panther, but ends up coming across as a bit boring for the average moviegoer with a shorter attention span.

Much of the kudos goes to character development, perhaps. You do not have to be a comic fan to accurately predict that Shuri will be the next Black Panther. Who the heck are you thinking should be the new one? Ramonda? LOL. In this regard, we can say that Wright kind of hit the jackpot with the accelerated promotion. Boseman definitely deserved a longer tenure, but death or no death, we all know that the mantle will be passed down to a younger successor down the line anyway. It's inevitable like that.

Shuri just got lucky that she got it early. The question now is whether she will pursue that path. After all, there’s no going back now. What you end up admiring about her character evolution is the dash of ambiguity the writers decided to lend her, with her moral compass surprisingly leaning more towards Killmonger rather than her beloved brother. A little bit of darkness makes any character interesting. Here’s hoping they can explore that darker side more should Black Panther’s lore live on in the MCU.

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