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MOVIE REVIEW Wakanda Forever hits the mark

on Monday, 21 November 2022. Posted in Local News

Thomas Merzlak. Movie Reviews

Ryan Coogler, the director of 2018’s Black Panther and its sequel, Wakanda Forever, is one of the most significant talents to helm a Marvel superhero movie. Most filmmakers of any caliber - from the relatively inexperienced Jon Watts (Spider-Man: No Way Home) to Academy Award winner Chloé Zhao (Eternals)- are handicapped by the resolute blandness of Marvel Studios’ house style, but Coogler manages to create moments of profundity that deserve commendation. He’s always had a shrewd grasp of visual storytelling and style, evidenced by his decision to film his debut Fruitvale Station on 16mm film stock, and he puts it to good use in Wakanda Forever. Cinematographer Autumn Durald Arkapaw’s dynamic camera is a welcome improvement over most modern blockbusters’ inert cinematography, and the lighting, while flat, is more thoughtful and carefully designed than most Marvel films. The blocking and shot composition in Wakanda Forever is also a marked improvement on the last few Marvel movies- Coogler makes a clear effort to foreground visual storytelling, and it pays off, especially in the first act. Unfortunately, the movie grows weaker as it progresses. Wakanda Forever runs at 2 hours, 41 minutes, and it begins to drag very quickly. The first hour is excellent, but the middle of the film suffers from the tiresome necessity to set up countless future Marvel projects. Julia Louis-Dreyfus appears sporadically throughout in order to set up a movie that won’t come out for another four years. An overlong digression about halfway through introduces another character who has no impact on the plot and is only in the film to soft-launch a television series. Martin Freeman is present only to bring those subplots in line with the main story. I appreciate the fact that a series installment must establish threads to be picked up by future entries, but the inelegance of Wakanda Forever’s world-building is frustrating, especially because it’s not integrated into the story. That’s really the biggest problem with the film- it has a very strong setup, coming to terms with the tragic death of the series’ former lead Chadwick Boseman, but doesn’t quite follow through for a variety of reasons. While the narratively unnecessary world-building is studio-mandated, other issues are motivated by different factors. Boseman’s death left the filmmakers with a challenge. They needed to write a film that both dealt with the passing of a character and an actor who gained iconic significance and meant a lot to many people, but they had to do so with sensitivity, and also fill the gap left by his absence. I think that they succeed on the first point. The movie avoids having to portray his final moments onscreen and centers Letitia Wright’s Shuri and Angela Bassett’s Ramonda as the film’s emotional center. However, Wright doesn’t have the charisma necessary to anchor a film this big and this important- it’s the first Marvel movie in a long time that has genuine, real-world ramifications, both as a eulogy for a beloved actor and as a sequel to one of the most impactful major motion pictures of the last decade. Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is a flawed movie, but it has a powerful driving force behind it- it’s a film by an impeccable craftsman, it homages and sends off an iconic character and actor, but it’s limited by its obligation to the wider Marvel series and by the absence of Boseman’s gravitas and humanity. Altogether, I think that Wakanda Forever is excellent for a film made within its limitations, a more interesting work of art than most other Marvel pictures, and a decent time at the movies.

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is currently playing at the Julia 4 Cinema and the Regal Swampfox Cineplex. Film reviews by Thomas Merzlak and Ayan Guha appear alternatively each month in The News Journal. Merzlak and Guha are seniors in the International Baccalaureate program at Wilson High. Opinions expressed in this review are those of the columnist and not of The News Journal or its staff.

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