Kimberly Reyes explains how Wakanda Forever accomplishes all the things.
First things first, as a mutantist (a Marvel fan who believes it’s time for mutants to reclaim their place on the MCU throne) I’m over-the-moon with what Namor—heart-stoppingly played by José Tenoch Huerta Mejía—brings to the table in his MCU debut. In a film universe that has become synonymous with mutates like Iron Man, Captain America, Spiderman, and even my beloved Hulk, it’s about time that a complicated mutant, with all their inherent, political provocations, takes centerstage.
Like most fans I adored Iron Man and Cap on film, but their comics were never the ones I’d run to the comic store for as a kid as their battles never seemed as relatable as those of Magneto or Mystique—tormented characters who didn’t have a choice in being different.
I wasn’t running to the comic store for Black Panther (during the 1980’s run) either because my older, wiser cousins, who pretty much curated my childhood comic book experience, weren’t. Something about characters with names like “Man-Ape” (who we thank God only know as M’Baku in the films) didn’t sit right with them. But Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther adaptation changed the representation game while changing cinematic history.
The Chadwick Boseman-led Black Panther film and its record-breaking success meant that Hollywood could no longer pretend that general audiences only cared about white casts and stories, or that non-white audiences didn’t have buying power. And in Boseman’s perfect portrayal of T’Challa, Wakanda’s regal protector, audiences saw Black conflict as well as Black joy in new and necessary ways.
With Boseman’s untimely and tragic death, Wakanda Forever was tasked with plausibly reworking its script, moving the MCU out of Phase Four while introducing us to Namor and the people of Talokan as well as Riri Williams (aka Ironheart, played by Dominique Thorne), in addition to paying tribute to a real hero, on and off the screen. Fortunately, the film successfully checks all the boxes.
Unlike Spider-man: No Way Home, which relied on instant audience gratification, this is the type of film that gets better with each watch. As always, familiarity with the comics will enhance your viewing experience, but the political nuggets in this movie are so perfectly seasoned that it’s hard not to want to revisit some of the knowledge that Namor and a treasured anti-villain (no spoilers!) spit.
The fight scenes in this film, although breathtaking, don’t quite hit the spot in the same way that the first movie did, but for obvious reasons. The tone of the film is often somber and subdued, dampening the build-up to conflict. It is also near impossible to root for one side over the other in the fights between Wakanda and Talokan. Do we cheer on a civilization (that we’ve grown to know and love) who avoided colonization and conflict by “hiding in plain sight,” or do we back a people who fled the surface of the Americas as Spanish colonizers came to disappear and enslave their people? Both cultures are only meeting and fighting because they’ve been forced out of Eden by the power-hungry and civilization-killing West. We are supposed to feel torn if not downright uncomfortable watching two beautiful cultures—two prosperous factions of diasporas that have suffered in the hands of the very same people— aiming their vibranium spears at one another.
Like the first Black Panther movie, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever asks us to consider why and when vengeance is futile, and what the difference is between an antihero and an anti villain. Yes, the script felt a little rushed in terms of Shuri’s development in the final act, and there was a bit too much of agent Ross with all the new-character building that needed to happen (Michaela Coel’s Aneka is in the movie less than he is for Christ’s sake!), but overall Black Panther: Wakanda Forever succeeds in setting us up for a promising Phase Five.
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is in cinemas from 1st November 2022.