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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“Black Panther” movie review

A groundbreaking new perspective on the typical high concept superhero movie. Marvel’s Black Panther directed by Ryan Coogler is the type of movie that began with the desire to make a bold statement and then a narrative was built around the message. If you’ve heard it’s unlike any superhero movie you’ve seen before, then you’ve heard correctly. One of the things I’ve always appreciated about the Marvel universe (and DC by the same token) is the diversity of the characters. There are characters from a variety of backgrounds, creeds, cultures, ethnicities, etc that are represented in the characters. However, just because the characters were there does not mean they received reasonable screentime (or page time in comics). Up to this point, X-Men’s Storm (my favorite Marvel character) seems to be the only black character who receives comparable screen and page time to that of her white male or female counterparts. In a world that should teach us that our universe is a diverse place, filled with incredible people from a variety of backgrounds and origins, the representation of black heroes lagged behind. The beauty of Black Panther is not that is was simply created to finally give a predominantly black cast in a superhero universe the spotlight, the beauty is that the movie has something to teach everyone. There is a particularly strong message for young black boys and girls that their mythology is as fascinating as the Greeks and Romans, and that they can achieve greatness through teamwork, education, and loyalty.

Chadwick Boseman plays King T’Challa, of Wakanda, the fictional African nation housing secret sci-fi technology, who must step up and embrace the weighty responsibility of his birthright after the assassination of his father. When T’Challa returns home Wakanda to take his rightful place as king, a powerful enemy suddenly reappears and challenges T’Challa’s claim to the throne — and as Black Panther — T’Challa gets tested when he’s drawn into a conflict that puts the fate of Wakanda and the entire world at risk. Faced with treachery and danger, the young king must rally his allies and release the full power of Black Panther to defeat his foes and secure the safety of his people. (IMDb)

Although there is a lot of technology in Wakanda (and by extension, in the film), the focus is not on gadgetry or superpowers but on how T’Challa can be a better king than his father who made a poor judgment call that ultimately cost him his life and put the land of Wakanda at risk of rape, pillage, and plunder. That is a message that resonates with everyone–we all want to strive to be better as we go through life. Perhaps we are trying to be better than we were as kids or maybe you are trying to be a better parent than yours were. Whatever the case, we can all place ourselves in T’Challe’s boots. There is also a powerful message regarding how isolation can be detrimental to society at large. Not that the film is advocating the loss of sovereignty–Wakanda is highly sovereign–but there is the message that a country with so much to offer should return some of that to the world in order to help create a better society, more opportunities for growth, and the sharing knowledge that can heal and protect.

The cast is incredible! So many talented performers who truly bring their respective characters to life. My only negative critique regarding the cast is the underused Michael B Jordan as the main opposition character. His charisma shines brightly on screen! But sadly, he does not get much screen time. He is the type of opposition character that you love to see, but unfortunately, you don’t get that much time with him. Although many may be quick to liken Black Panther to Captain America—and for good reason, both shoot straight and almost piously righteous–there is a big difference between the two–and it’s a good one. Black Panther is humanized by his endearing relationship with his brilliant sister Shuri portrayed by the delightful Letitia Wright. Honestly, she was my favorite character in the entire movie. Every moment she was on screen was outstanding. She was the only one who wasn’t bruting–always positive–and has the BEST lines. Just her character alone is enough to give the movie rewatchabiity. On the topic of dialogue, I would like to have seen a powerful monologue that embodied the message of the film and evoked strong emotion. There are emotional parts, but I think an acute moment would have done the film well.

The film opens with a beautiful long tracking shot of exquisite editing that has a mystical feel to it. The opening alone is enough to hook your attention for the remainder of the narrative. No surprise here that all the technical elements were exemplary. There were only a few times that the visual effects felt artificial. For all the action movie tropes in the film, it plays as more of a character-driven story than action-driven. And that’s the brilliance of Black Panther. Simple plot, complex characters–that’s what I tell my screenwriting students at the University of Tampa.

Intensely riveting, Black Panther is clearly a standout Marvel film distinguished from the others in the MCU. All the elements that give it the fresh take on the superhero movie genre work to its advantage. You’ll certainly be left with a lasting impression.

“London Has Fallen” movie review

LondonHasFallenJust another cliche political conspiracy action thriller, but definitely a fun ride! Movies like this one often receive flack for not having a cinematic narrative to accompany the larger than life display on screen. However, I like to look at movies such as London Has Fallen or last year’s Olympus Has Fallen as a way to experience great shallow spectacle and some laughs for a couple of hours. One of the chief reasons that this film is fun and exciting to watch is the cast. Gerard Butler, Aaron Eckhart, accompanied by the phenomenal Angela Bassett, and Morgan Freeman will have your attention throughout the story. It is very important for an otherwise cliche action political thriller to contain excellent actors who can add that touch of quality that films in this sub-genre of action need. A side effect of this film could be heightened awareness to the unrest in the middle east and terrorism when you least expect it. There really isn’t much to dissect or analyze in this movie, so it is one of those that you take for what it is. An action-packed couple of hours that is thrilling with some laughs here and there.

The Prime Minister of the United Kingdom is dead, and his funeral becomes the most highly secured event on earth. Politicians and leaders from all over the world gather to mourn the loss of a beloved leader. Along with the other world leaders, the U.S. President is also in attendance. When tragedy strikes at St. Paul’s Cathedral, many are left dead and injured. Just when the UK and the rest of the world thinks it can rely on its own military and palace guards, the terrorists have infiltrated the very inner workings of England’s security, military, and public safety. No one can be trusted. Armed with his “bourbon and bad choices,” secret service agent Mike Banning (Gerard Butler) protects President Asher (Eckhart) and Secret Service Director Lynn Jacobs (Bassett) and tried to get them to safety when all hell breaks loose. Vice President Trumbull (Freeman) must helplessly watch the terror unfold. Just when things couldn’t get any worse, Asher winds up in the hands of the terrorists and Banning must rescue him before he is publicly executed online.

What a weekend for movies. You have your choices of this one, ZootopiaWhiskey Tango Foxtrot (which I am seeing tonight), and more. Really looking forward to Tina Fey’s movie tonight.