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A fumbled legacy


WORLD Radio - A fumbled legacy

Black Panther II doesn’t live up to Chadwick Boseman’s work


MYRNA BROWN, HOST: Today is Friday, November 11th.

Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day.

Good morning. I’m Myrna Brown.

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher.

Coming next on The World and Everything in It: the most anticipated superhero film of the year.

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever debuts in theaters today. The first Black Panther movie smashed box-office records and became a worldwide phenomenon. But can this sequel live up to the original—especially considering it lacks the beloved actor Chadwick Boseman who died of cancer in 2020? Here’s reviewer Collin Garbarino.

M’Baku: Wakanda!

Shuri: Forever!

Voices: Wakanda forever! Wakanda forever!

COLLIN GARBARINO: Let’s be honest. It doesn’t really matter what I say about Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. You’ve probably already made up your mind about whether you plan to see it. That first Black Panther movie was one Marvel’s best superhero films. And director Ryan Coogler set the bar pretty high for himself. I won’t try to convince you not to see this sequel. But I will warn you to keep your expectations low.

Chadwick Boseman gave such an iconic performance as Black Panther that when he died of colon cancer two years ago, Marvel Studios decided they wouldn’t recast the character. Prince T’Challa the Black Panther died with Boseman. Coogler attempts to turn this sequel into a tribute to Boseman, while at the same time taking the fictional African country of Wakanda in a new direction.

Ramonda: We know what you whisper. They have lost their protector. Now is our time to strike.

Angela Bassett plays Queen Ramonda, the grieving mother of the late Black Panther. Her scientist daughter Shuri is once again played by Letitia Wright. The two women wrestle with the loss of their son and brother. And they struggle to protect Wakanda from outsiders who desire to exploit their most precious resource—the magical metal vibranium.

Ramonda: Stop right there! Who are you! And how did you get in here?

Namor: This place is amazing. The air is pristine. And the water. My mother told stories about a place like this. A protected land with people who never have to leave. That never have to change who they were. What reason do you have to reveal your secret to the world?

Ramonda: I am not a woman who enjoys repeating herself.

Wakanda has a new powerful foe. A flying merman with super strength and super speed, who also has an entire army of aquatic warriors.

Who are you?

Namor: I have many names. My people call me Kukulkan. My enemies call me Namor.

Namor is played by Mexican actor Tenoch Huerta. He and the Wakandans race to see who can capture a genius scientist teenager first. She’s the only one who knows how to make a vibranium detector.

Riri: Get out of my dorm. Get out.

Shuri: Hey.

Riri: I’m warning you. Do not take another step toward me.

Okoye: See how they teach the children to treat their guests!

Shuri: You brought a spear in here!

Riri: You brought a spear in here.

Okoye: I like her.

When Queen Ramonda refuses to hand the girl over to Namor, he declares war on Wakanda. Watery fight scenes follow. Strong violence and a little language merit the movie’s PG-13 rating.

Despite the film’s 2-hour-and-40-minute running time—you heard right, 2 hours and 40 minutes—Wakanda Forever doesn’t have much in the way of plot. And what it does have feels derivative and full of holes. The movie contains at least half an hour's worth of scenes meant as tribute to Boseman. They might make you a little sad and wistful, but they don’t further the story. The movie also has about half an hour of scenes with the American CIA that merely set up future films in the Marvel franchise.

Things dragged on so long that by the time the mantle of Black Panther was passed to its new owner, I was like, “Okay. So that happened.” What was meant to be the movie’s big moment elicited little more than a shrug.

Everything ends up feeling so tedious in this nonsensical war between Wakanda and the merfolk.

M’Baku: His people do not call him general or king. They call him Kukulkan, the feather serpent god. Killing him will risk eternal war.

And a lot of the messaging left me either cold or confused. In the comics, Namor is from Atlantis. This movie reimagines him and his followers as Mayans who migrated underwater when Spanish conquerors arrived in Mexico. It’s hard not to think there’s a political subtext here. Is Coogler telling black and brown people to stop fighting each other and unite against their real enemy—white folks? There’s lots of talk about colonizers and resisting exploitation. America and France get called out as bad guys. African and Mesoamerican indigenous religions are good—Christianity, bad. Coogler offers a trite “noble savage” stereotype.

And then there’s definitely a sense that girl power will save the world.

Okoye: Aneka, where is your spear?

Aneka: Shuri gave me these to try. You know, I like them better.

Okoye: Our foremothers gave us the spear because it is precise, elegant, and deadly. It will not change under my watch.

Aneka: Yes, general.

Ayo: I told you not to bring them.

The crux of the movie hinges on whether the main characters will embody the noble spirit of Chadwick Boseman’s T’Challa. Or will they seek vengeance? This might have been an interesting question, but Coogler totally botches it. At the climax, the characters not only give up on vengeance, they just completely give up. The movie ends with a cringey cliched moment that feels false. After 160 minutes, the supposed heroes can’t be bothered to care about justice.

See Wakanda Forever, if you like. It has some entertainment value. There’s plenty of spears and explosions and high-tech gadgets. But don’t expect anything else. Certainly don’t expect it to make sense.

For WORLD, I’m Collin Garbarino.

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