BLACK PANTHER: WAKANDA FOREVER movie review

Wakanda Forever a.k.a. Postcolonial Theory: the Movie. The overly long, poorly paced latest installment in the MCU feels disjointed. Black Panther: Wakanda Forever goes on forever, and ever, and ever, and ever, because the movie is overstuffed with subplots to nowhere and one-dimensional (or plot device) characters that serve little substantive purpose except to augment the runtime. About 45-minutes can easily be carved out of the movie, and the action plot would be largely unaffected. Other times, it feels as if entire sequences or scenes are missing, because the editing (montage or assembly) is choppy. The absence of the late Chadwick Boseman is felt from beginning to end, and the movie constantly struggles to find its footing as it moves forward in the MCU. The tributes to Boseman at the beginning and of the movie are tastefully, and reverently crafted. While the writing of the movie is insufferable, the performative element of the mise-en-scene is chiefly supported by the incomparable Angela Bassett. Wouldn’t be surprised to see her receive a Golden Globe nomination for actress in a supporting role next year. There is a good followup to Black Panther somewhere in this nearly 2.75hr movie, but it must’ve been caught up in the snap.

Queen Ramonda (Bassett), Shuri (Letitia Wright), 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.

The command performance by Bassett is the highlight of the movie! Every scene that features her instantly increases in quality and gravitas. With just one look, she steels the scene and convinces you that what she is saying or feeling is incredibly important. Unfortunately, the rest of the characters are largely one-dimensional and lack meaningful arcs or characters development. One of the biggest problems is the writers’ refusal to bloody your central character, which holds the other lead and supporting characters back from forming empathetic connections with the audience. Princess Shuri is nearly a deus ex machnina in and of herself. In other words, we have (Star Wars) Rey: Vol.2 featured in Wakanda Forever.

When characters are too perfect, too capable (to an uncanny level), and the writer(s) refuses to bloody the central character, then the characters lacks–well–character (or a believable human dimension). Meaning, there is little doubt the character will succeed, and typically success is paired with a false sense of dread or suspense that the character will undoubtedly achieve that which will make them a de facto superhuman. Simply stated, superhuman (or superhuman-like) characters are neither fun to watch nor do they service the plot in a meaningful way. More like characters as a plot device.

Functioning as an overt attempt at subtext, there is a constant reminder of the narrative’s embrace of the cynical postcolonial theory, which is the overarching idea of the systematic deconstruction of The West in order to save the other, thus erasing universal truths and metanarratives from the world.

The goal of postcolonial theory is to decolonize our world: the systemic undoing of colonialism in all its manifestations and impacts. Powerful, albeit difficult to support with logic, postcolonial theory is concerned with the critique of the affects when a dominant culture interjects its values, beliefs, and cultural norms upon another culture. Twice in the film, Martin Freeman’s character is referred to as a colonizer in a rather pejorative attempt at humor. Not limited to the relationship between Wakanda and the rest of the world (mainly The West), but the same overt parallel is dramatized between another important world in the movie and The West.

This theoretical approach to sociology and scholarly activism advocates that colonized people react violently in order to maintain their increasingly fragile mental health and self-respect. Postcolonialism has formed the radical foundation upon which many marxist politics are built. Objective knowledge (and by extension science, facts, universal truth)—that which is true for everyone, regardless of cultural values—is seen as unobtainable because knowledge is a construct of the dominant group’s worldview, and must be forcibly removed from the world. Which is a large part of the movie–the elimination of The West. This factors into two competing story threads.

But why is this a dangerous theory upon which to build an entire movie? The framework of postcolonial theory urges those that see themselves as oppressed (even if that oppression was decades or centuries ago), to abandon evidence-based, rigorous testing, research, and critical thinking in exchange for assumptions, subjective observations, and hypotheses. Ironically, postcolonial scholar-activists attack systems of power by erecting systems of power. The radical, proactive denial of the existence of universality actually pushes a different universality (hmm…sounds like a metanarrative…but aren’t those supposed to be bad?).

Another cynical theory that is manifested in this movie is feminist theory. Whereas I do not feel the need to spend too much time on this more commonly known theory, it’s important to note that all the lead and chiefly supporting characters are women–powerful–women, and all the villains are men–inept or evil–men. When writers craft a mix of characters, there should be room for both, as that would be more representative of real life. Both the X-Men and The Avengers showcase a great mix of both powerful, cunning, intelligent men and women. Therefore, general audiences can connect with a character(s).

Augmenting the runtime of the movie is both a subplot that ostensibly goes nowhere and a supporting character that is little more than a plot device. Without getting into spoilers, there is a subplot featuring Freeman’s Everett K. Ross that fails to add anything substantive to the movie. Just when you think it’s going to provide a reveal about a rather mysterious characters from other MCU movies and Wanda Vision, nothing happens. If you remove this subplot from the movie, little to nothing changes. Connected with this subplot is a supporting character that is (supposed to be) the MacGuffin. But the writers attempt to give this character gravitas. Unfortunately, but there isn’t enough substance to this character, thus rendered one-dimensional. Furthermore, this character could be removed without changing much. And what little would change, could easily be given to another character of plotting element.

No doubt that Black Panther: Wakanda Forever will be a huge financial success at the box office, but without the late Chadwick Boseman, the movie feels like a bunch of ideas from a woke writers room that were thrown against the wall, and forcibly connected as coherently as possible. But, the movie does create a way, albeit of little to no surprise, for the Black Panther to continue protecting Wakanda.

Ryan teaches Film Studies and Screenwriting at the University of Tampa and is a member of the Critics Association of Central Florida. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog! Interested in Ryan making a guest appearance on your podcast or contributing to your website? Send him a DM on Twitter. If you’re ever in Tampa or Orlando, feel free to catch a movie with him.

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