‘Black Panther 2’ review: A messy but valiant effort

The end comes right at the beginning: fast, expected, devastating. King T’Challa, the Black Panther of Wakanda, is seriously ill, and his brilliant sister Shuri (an energetic Letitia Wright) is working desperately to find a cure. The clock is ticking and the camera racing, but for all the suspense, there is predictably no suspense: T’Challa is soon dead, leaving the princess and queen mother Ramonda (Angela Bassett) to mourn with their subjects. That we don’t even see a flashback to T’Challa’s face—the face of the late Chadwick Boseman—in these opening moments reinforces the sense of finality, an absence that reverberates beyond the parameters of fiction. We share the characters’ devastation, but not their shock; Unlike them, we had some time to prepare.

Of course, this also applies to the filmmakers. And in the opening scenes of Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, director Ryan Coogler’s tact, intelligence and judgment are more than evident. He wants to honor Boseman’s memory – without taking advantage of him – and he knows he doesn’t have to work hard to earn our tears. He also knows that every ending is real, both as a narrative possibility and as a philosophical principle a start. And so, even as he leads us in a muted procession through the streets of Wakanda and through a series of hauntingly beautiful funeral rites, Coogler maintains his relentless drive forward, quickly putting a grief-stricken empire on high alert. There are already new adventures – and yes, new occasions for grief – on the horizon.

The story he tells is unwieldy and strange, sometimes exciting but inevitably dark. As diplomacy fails, secrets are exchanged, and forces clash on land and sea, one never quite forgets that one is witnessing not only a busy narrative act, but also an imperfect solution to an impossible problem. Not long after Boseman’s death in 2020, speculation was rampant about how the much-anticipated sequel to 2018’s “Black Panther,” one of the most commercially and culturally significant blockbusters of all time, would take such a hit. Would T’Challa be recast? Would a creepy, digitally rendered version of Boseman’s character survive to fight another day? Those options have been discarded, and Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is now something vastly different from what its creators must have once imagined: an entertainment and an elegy, a blurring of tragedy on and off the screen, a story that is both shapeless as well as ennobled by a once unthinkable loss.

Angela Bassett in the movie "Black Panther: Wakanda Forever."

Angela Bassett in the movie Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.

(Disney)

And why not? The power of Coogler’s first Black Panther film – which made it such a unique oasis of emotion, meaning and political imagination in the Marvel Cinematic Universe – lay precisely in its real-world friction, its refusal to flinch from grief and pain. Here was a comic fantasy at once desperate and utopian, rooted in a flamboyant superhero mythology (first invented in the ’60s by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby) that served to deepen the audience’s consciousness rather than break away from it to remove. Technologically advanced and vibranium-armed, the Kingdom of Wakanda emerged fully formed as what New Yorker Jelani Cobb called “a redeeming counter-mythology” – a powerfully conceited corrective to the white colonization of the African continent, albeit a kingdom located at a strategic distance the ongoing struggle for black liberation worldwide.

Black Panther ended with Wakanda agreeing to lower its isolation shield and join the international community. As the new film opens, the kingdom witnesses the cost of this concession thanks to the global hunger for vibranium, the almighty metal that fuels Wakanda’s technological supremacy. There is something unmistakably resonant about the idea of ​​a nation that has never known the threat of colonization or conquest and suddenly finds itself besieged on all sides, its position even more threatened by the untimely loss of its most precious son. Even more resonant is the image of Ramonda, played by Bassett with sublimated fear and breathtaking rage, bearing the full weight of her moral authority as she fearlessly steps into the breach.

Ramonda’s presence on the throne of Wakandan, with Shuri as her closest consort, builds on a feminist foundation well laid in the earlier film. For all its paternalistic Sturm und Drang (including Michael B. Jordan’s electrifying villainy as Erik Killmonger), the first “Black Panther” reveled in the power of its female warriors and leaders, all of whom return here in full force and, in some cases, with important reinforcements. There’s a slick spear-twirling display of the Dora Milaje, led once again by the trusty Okoye (the formidable Danai Gurira) and backed by a formidable new soldier, Aneka (“I May Destroy You” Michaela Coel). Also jumping into the mix is ​​Riri (Dominique Thorne), a 19-year-old tech prodigy who rises and falls like Icarus and quips like someone clearly primed for future Marvel excursions.

Tenoch Huerta as Namor in Marvel Studios "Black Panther: Wakanda Forever."

Tenoch Huerta in the movie Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.

(Marvel Studios)

While Riri’s whiplash energy gives the proceedings a welcome early jolt, the character increasingly feels like an afterthought, especially after Coogler and co-writer Joe Robert Cole introduce a few paradigm-shattering twists. Enter Namor (the charismatic Tenoch Huerta), ruler of an Atlantis-like underwater kingdom called Talokan, which, like Wakanda, lives on Vibranium and until recently was a very closely guarded secret. Namor, a seductive, bronze-chested demigod, has pointed elven ears and winged feet reminiscent of the Greek god Hermes, but this lesser-known DC Comics Aquaman progenitor actually descended from an ancient Maya — literally, from an ancient Maya community. There are traces of this legacy in the hieroglyphs carved into the stone grottoes of Talokan, and also in Namor’s feathered headdress and intricate jewellery. (It’s less obvious with his subjects, whose bluish skin and fish-like gills suggest a more rubbery-looking take on the Na’vi characters in James Cameron’s forthcoming Avatar: The Way of Water.)

The clash between the forces of Wakanda and Talokan – a powerful African kingdom and its Mesoamerican counterpart – introduces an intriguing new cultural-mythological dynamic and raises all sorts of thorny questions about race and allies between characters of Black, Indigenous and Hispanic descent. (It also opens up new worlds of aesthetic possibilities for costume designer Ruth E. Carter, production designer Hannah Beachler, and composer Ludwig Göransson, all of whom wonderfully expand on their Oscar-winning contributions to the first “Black Panther.”) Less interesting, this conflict drives as well handles most of the action, and as with nearly every Marvel blockbuster, the many scenes of choreographed combat are by far the film’s most crafted, lacking any real visceral panache and bogged down, especially at the climax, by too many frantic cross-sections.

It’s telling that both the first Black Panther and this more chaotic, if rarely less compelling, sequel are at their strongest when bucking or even outright ignoring their franchise commitments. (The film fails when it leads from Wakanda and Talokan to various CIA machinations, which I won’t reveal, not because of spoilers but because they’re too boring for words.) Sometimes a sacrilegious and probably insane one emerges ringing question to the surface: Did “Wakanda Forever” even have to be a superhero movie? Little does it tell that someone new will inherit T’Challa’s catsuit, carry on the Black Panther mantle, and in all likelihood take her place in the next phase of the never-ending MCU soap opera. The change of baton is invigorating without feeling particularly satisfying, not least because the anointing of another Wakandan figurehead ultimately feels at odds with the film’s democratic spirit.

Angela Bassett in the movie "Black Panther: Wakanda Forever."

Angela Bassett in the movie Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.

(Disney)

One of the reasons Boseman was such a wonderful actor was his genius of restraint, his ability to take center stage without dominating it. His generosity towards his fellow actors suited T’Challa particularly well, a character who wasn’t – and didn’t need to be – the most interesting thing about the world he came from. Thankfully, Wakanda Forever sees more of this world. You see it in royal ceremonial isicholo which Ramonda wears while meeting with a council of Wakanda elders, played by familiar faces such as Isaach de Bankolé and the late Dorothy Steel (who died in 2021). You see it, too, in Winston Duke’s always boisterous M’Baku, that fur-clad bear of a tribal leader, and in Lupita Nyong’o’s superb, underused performance as veteran spy Nakia, returning after a stint on her land to serve her country self exile. She has reservations about the circumstances, but it’s a welcome homecoming nonetheless. you know the feeling

“Black Panther: Wakanda Forever”

Valuation: PG-13, for high violence, action and some speech sequences

Duration: 2 hours, 41 minutes

To play: Begins November 11th in general release

https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/movies/story/2022-11-08/black-panther-wakanda-forever-review-ryan-coogler-letitia-wright-angela-bassett ‘Black Panther 2’ review: A messy but valiant effort

Sarah Ridley

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