Marvel Studio’s 2016 release Captain America: Civil War did more than close out the Captain America trilogy and severely weaken the cinematic version of Avengers ahead of Avengers: Infinity War (2018), it introduced audiences to T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman), the prince of isolated country Wakanda. Though Boseman had been working for a number of years, his performance as T’Challa made a mark on audiences. So much so that in the Ryan Coogler-directed solo-outing Black Panther (2018), released a few short months before Infinity War, Boseman proved to be more than a scene-stealer, he’s a leading man whose aura exuded nobility, instantly grafting himself to the notable Marvel Comics character in the same way Christopher Reeves did with DC Comic’s Superman. To the great shock of all his fans, Boseman was sick and passed away in August 2020, resulting in Coogler and writing partner Joe Robert Cole (Black Panther) scrambling to figure out what to do next. It’s a horrifying situation personally and professionally, requiring Coogler, especially, to decide what direction to take the follow-up film, Wakanda Forever (2022), in. Whatever you think of the final product, Wakanda Forever is coming home, first on digital-to-own and Disney+ and then on physical formats, this February 2023.
If you’d like to learn about Wakanda Forever in a spoiler-free capacity, please jump over to the initial theatrical spoiler-free review. Moving forward, there will be detailed discussion of the film.
Sometime after the defeat of Thanos (Josh Brolin) at the hands of the combined might of the Avengers, the king of Wakanda, T’Challa, grew sick from a mysterious illness and kept it secret. It wasn’t until just before his death that he told his sister Shuri (Letitia Wright), who, without the aid of the heart-shaped herb, was unable to cure him. A year later, Queen Ramonda (Angela Bassett) has retaken the throne to lead the people of Wakanda against foreign powers who want access to their vibranium, while Shuri retreats further into her lab. While trying to help Shuri acknowledge her resistance to dealing with the loss, the two are interrupted by a man, Namor (Tenoch Huerta Mejía), proclaiming himself the ruler of a secret underwater nation that is now threatened because of T’Challa’s decision to reveal the existence of vibranium to the world. Aware that Wakanda is without the Black Panther to protect them, he threatens them with war unless Wakanda helps to find and delivers to him the scientist responsible for building a machine that can locate vibranium. Going to war always comes with consequences and neither side can be prepared for what the first strike will be or who will deal the final blow.
In the spoiler-free review, I explored some of the things that worked (Tenoch as Namor, Ruth E. Carter’s costumes, Winston Duke’s scene-stealing M’Baku) and the things that seemed to hurt the film (use of the CIA storyline, the requirement to address everyone’s grief). Do keep in mind that, given the approach of the narrative to work in the actual death of Boseman and translate it to T’Challa, it became a necessity to spend time on it. It *had* to be addressed because this is a Black Panther film and Boseman *is* T’Challa. The issue becomes that, in the addressing, the film finds itself in conflict between being an interesting character study of how grief breeds resentment which results in lashing out and its identity as a comic book film. As a result, the momentum the film creates when Namor establishes a ticking clock often gets lost when the characters are allowed permission to be human. Unfortunately, the characters became avatars for the audience, especially those who found no fault in Coogler’s decision to kill T’Challa rather than recast, enabling the audience to process their own grief, anger, and frustration as the characters do. This is only unfortunate when one realizes that these interesting character beats often come right before the need to spring into action because it is a comic book film and, therefore, someone’s gotta wear tights and throwdown. Then there’s the entire CIA subplot which mostly serves as a reason to contact Martin Freeman’s Everett Ross and a backdoor way to establish that Julia Louis-Dreyfus’s Valentina de Fontaine is the new CIA Director. The script dances around the CIA as the real bad guys of the film, demanding access to another nation’s resources and internally considering sabotaging Wakanda because they don’t get what they want. There’s an interesting opportunity to explore the U.S.’s role in destabilizing other global powers and the fallout that results, but, again, there needs to be time for grief processing and fisticuffs.
One should never respond to what a film isn’t versus what it is, but I can’t help but wonder what it would look like if Wakanda Forever had been allowed to be a The Winter Soldier-type film, an espionage film exploring how a world power might try to take advantage of a perceived weakened country. We get glimpses of this in the post-Marvel logo scene where Ramonda addresses NATO and we see the failed attempt by the French to steal materials from a Wakandian lab. This scene serves to establish that Ramonda is not a leader to be trifled with or tested, a signal of strength, while also smoothly establishing that other world leaders want what they have. This is the first hint of the fallout from T’Challa’s declaration of opening their borders, with the second coming from Namor himself. Subtext even starts to shift to text when De Fontaine tells a frustrated and now outed-as-a-Wakandian-spy Ross that she dreams of possessing their vibranium. However, as the film goes on, Namor becomes essentially Killmonger redux, seeking to strike first against those who have murdered and enslaved his people and who will not see his people enslaved further, planning to use Wakanda as the tip of his spear. Aspects of the script begin to lose their luster as they seem like a retread of material via a different individual. Even Shuri’s journey of grief and rage starts to mirror T’Challa’s in Civil War with Bucky (Sebastian Stan) and Baron Zemo (Daniel Brühl), adding to the sense of familiarity rather than a continuation or growth in terms of individual conflict or narrative ingenuity. Make the U.S. the threat manipulating Wakanda and Namor’s Talokan and you’ve got yourself something fresh and exciting as Namor is not one to be messed with, enabling Shuri to explore her own pain but not become controlled by it. Granted, we do get that struggle made manifest via her Black Panther suit — a combination of Killmonger’s and T’Challa’s — but not in a manner in which its unique to Shuri versus a retread of her brother’s journey.
In terms of a movie that might have been, in looking at the deleted scenes which accompany the home release, there is an entire storyline for Danai Guira’s Okoye to enjoy, even if it’s non-canonical, as three of the four address what Okoye is doing after she’s relieved of her rank and command. The third is a comical sequence in which Ross plays a more active role as a spy for Wakanda. If behind-the-scenes content is more your flavor, there’s a two-and-a-half minute gag reel that offers a more adorable side of the making of the film. There’re also two featurettes, totaling nearly 17 minutes, that invite home viewing audiences to learn how the cast and crew made the film. The longer of the two, “Envisioning Two Worlds,” allows us to learn about the production design and costume design (both stunning), as well as the crafting of the story. The second, “Passing the Mantle,” is more specific, drilling into the legacy of Boseman and how to carry his work forward through Wright’s Shuri. Be advised that in trying to check out the feature-length commentary a common issue with digital copies arose: all audio, no picture. So if you’d like to use the commentary track featuring Coogler, Cole, and cinematographer Autumn Durald Arkapaw (Disney+’s LOKI) while watching the film, going the physical edition route is your best bet. As Walt Disney provided a digital copy of the film for the purposes of this home release review, I cannot speak to whether there are any issues with the physical edition, but those have been presented without issue in the past.
If physical media is your preference, as is mine, also be advised that you have several options to choose from. There are the typical 4K UHD, Blu-ray, and DVD releases, but the 4K UHD comes in several custom options. Best Buy has two different steelbook designs, one representing Wakanda and the other Talokan. Walmart has its own custom limited edition that includes both a unique cover design incorporating all the central characters, as well as an exclusive enamel pin. If you’re a member of the Disney Movie Club, you can opt for a club exclusive Blu-ray/DVD/digital Combo that features the teaser poster for the film, which is a simple black background with the Black Panther helmet visible.
I said it in my initial review and I mentioned it at the start of this write-up: Coogler had a herculean task to untangle and there was no singular right answer. The film we get does entertain, does establish new parties and their needs well, and does set up coming conflicts that continue to exist outside the rest of the MCU (smart, thus far). It does all of this while closing out Phase Four. There was no winning here, given the situation, but, overall, Wakanda Forever delicately addresses the real world loss of Boseman, enables the characters to process their feelings on it, and opens up the world for a new Black Panther to step into the world.
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever Special Features*:
- Gag Reel (2:29)
- Feature-Length Audio Commentary (2:41:19)
- Envisioning Two Worlds (10:55)
- Passing the Mantle (5:50)
- Four (4) Deleted Scenes: (10:12)
*bonus features vary by product and retailer
Available on Disney+ and digital-to-own February 1st, 2023.
Available on 4K UHD, Blu-ray, and DVD February 7th, 2023.
For more information, head to Marvel’s official Black Panther: Wakanda Forever website.
Categories: Home Release, Recommendation
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