Director: Ryan Coogler
Notable Cast: Letitia Wright, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai
Gurira, Winston Duke, Dominique Thorne, Tenoch Huerta Mejia, Angela Bassett,
Florence Kasumba, Michaela Coel, Mabel Cadena
With a smoldering look in his eye and a defiant and yet
somehow caring lilt to his voice, Tenoch Huerta Mejia’s Namor, the antagonist
of Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, practically purrs when he’s speaking
to Shuri, played by Letitia Wright. His presence is a massive burning sun in
the film even as he sits having a heart-to-heart with the big hero. Yet, when
he makes his big request to the Princess of Wakanda, he states it as a matter
of fact. He asks her to burn the world with him.
You know what? Say no more, Namor. I’m with you. Burn this
piece of shit planet to the ground.
Granted, his request in the film is far more loaded with
contextual matter than his simple line of dialogue. This isn’t a young man
passing a folded-up note to his crush in study hall. Or sending a text message.
Or whatever kids do these days. Maybe TikTok. This is a man burdened with the
knowledge and memories of a people driven to the sea by Spanish conquerors as
they plundered his land for resources. And plundered his people as resources.
Once again, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever proves that director and
co-writer Ryan Coogler is far more interested in the gray areas of emotional
and social commentary provided by the villains than the heroes in his Marvel
This tactic makes Wakanda Forever one of the better
Marvel movies in the entire slate. Similar to the antagonist of Black
Panther, Namor is the star of this film. Tenoch’s immense presence, regal
moments, nuanced emotional resonance, and pure will can be felt in almost any
moment. It’s impressive, to say the least. For a film that surrenders most of
its protagonists’ emotional threading to grief and loss, Namor aptly mirrors it
and gives weight to the film’s loftier concepts around his forgotten people and
how Wakanda needs to remember there were other races subjugated to the awful
tyranny of colonialism.
It’s not that Coogler and his team forget about the various
Wakandians that serve as the protagonists of the narrative, but he’s definitely
using them to serve his thematic goals even more so than his plotting. Mostly
because, as you probably guessed, the overall plot is very much in the Marvel
formula. It’s a globe-trotting adventure for our new lead Shuri, still torn and
distressed by the loss of her brother (Rest in power, Mr. Boseman), where she
must hunt down a scientist, Riri, and then prepare for the upcoming battle
against Namor and his legions of underwater warriors from the kingdom of
In its Marvel way, the film is paced relatively well for its
robust runtime of 160+ minutes with just enough action set pieces to break up
the character and theme-driven narrative. Coogler still struggles a bit with
getting the massive amount of CGI to fully integrate into the real world (most
Marvel films do) but Wakanda Forever does it better than the previous Black
Panther in making the action work. Whether it’s the fun chase sequence in
the US, the final claws-to-fists one-on-one between Namor and the newly crowned
titular superhero, or the (ultimately awkward) giant ass boat fight, all of the
action is fun even when it’s too CGI-heavy. When it’s not nearly as
CGI-focused, like the first fight with the royal guard - the Dora Milaje, the
film feels more grounded and connected to its characters. This is inherently an
issue with most blockbusters, superhero films included, so it’s to be fairly
Still, despite its rather run-of-the-mill Marvel structure
and safe action set pieces, Wakanda Forever manages to rise above the
average and pull off a shockingly effective film. The choice to focus on Shuri
as the new main lead is interesting, mostly because of the ensemble cast that
is meant to drive the film I find Shuri to be one of the least interesting ones
in the grander spectrum. Wakanda Forever does use Angela Bassett as an
impeccable powerhouse to ground most of the film which is a much-needed
presence since Lupita Nyong’o’s Nakia feels sidelined for a large swath.
Most of these characters are struggling with the recent
passing of King T’Challa and the somber and sad tone permeates their arcs until
the third act when Namor starts to bring out the action in the cast/narrative.
Although it’s impossible to address this film and its choices, of which many
had to be changed quickly after the real-life death of Chadwick Boseman (again,
rest in power, sir), the film handles most of it admirably and threads it
nicely into the larger themes about racism, colonialism, and ethnic
This brings this review, if it can be called that at this point, back to the shining gem of Wakanda Forever: Namor.
If I was being honest, my expectations of how Coogler and
company would handle the ethnic conflict - in this case between Wakanda and
Talokan - were low. It is not an easy subject to broach, let alone in a
superhero film. Coogler, however, always seems to have his hand on the pulse of
some mighty large ideas that both empower and critique the Black community
while never detracting from the entertainment value of the film he’s making. In
this case, he regularly prods and questions why Wakanda seemingly disengages
and battles Namor and Talokan instead of recognizing how similar the two
nations are - as people trampled by a history of colonialism.
Namor may be the “villain” of the film, but like Killmonger
of Black Panther, he’s not inherently misguided with his responses. This
is where Wakanda Forever manages to find its brilliance - not only does
it use its themes to ask hard questions about the social status of Wakanda and
its people and how they jeopardized themselves - but it brings light to the
plights of the Indigenous peoples of Latin America through Talokan and how
Wakanda has been isolated for so long - they forgot to build bridges to those
who shared the same history and vision for the future.
Ultimately, while Black Panther: Wakanda Forever
occasionally shows its cracks by forcing its ideas into the Marvel formula, the
messages and characters embedded in the formula strike a fascinatingly strong
nerve - in a great way. It’s still a fun movie with decent action and some
great characters, but Coogler doubles down on the thematic weight and it makes Wakanda
Forever one of the best that Marvel has released.