The latest Black Panther outing is both good entertainment and a moving elegy to Chadwick Boseman, but it could have done with a tighter, less unwieldy storyline

The first Black Panther was one of the most singular of the Marvel movies. Among its defects was the difficult coexistence between entertainment and reflection, a tendency towards ostentation when the story did not require it, and the sensation that its focus on big speeches came at the cost of attention to detail. But where it nailed it was with the construction of a world of its own that seemed to naturally form part of an expanded universe, the introduction of a very credible antagonist with understandable motivations, and their conversion into a cultural icon who projected a community’s struggle into a global arena. Precisely the latter ended up becoming a double-edged sword in its sequel, Wakanda Forever. Given those responsible – with director Ryan Coogler at the helm – well know they will be seen in a symbolic light, they tend to convert each dialogue into a speech along such lines. At times, the gamble pays off because the comic strips themselves already played a role in calling out issues and reaffirming rights. But at other times, this drags out key moments of dramatic tension far too far. On the other hand, it was clear that the premature and tragic death of Chadwick Boseman would leave its mark on the film’s narrative and it has to be said that the result is a delicate, moving and essential farewell tribute to him. But in various ways, the nub of the big problem in this second installment is that it could have done with a tighter storyline needing less screen time, and without repeating certain errors (the worst being a range of tones and registers never quite combining harmoniously) that undermine its undeniable virtues.

Putting aside the wish that Wakanda Forever was briefer and less rambling, it’s worth homing in on the aspects that do work, of which there are many. One of the key ones is that Coogler continues to give the world he portrays a very well-defined identity that goes beyond Marvel’s expansive tale, and this applies to both Wakanda and the underwater kingdom led by Namor. The latter encapsulates where this sequel really nails it – it gives the character a backstory and special ability different to what they have in the comics, but manages to do so in a credible and nuanced way thanks to a dramatic conflict that fits perfectly with that of Shuri, the true protagonist. In this clash of civilizations there is good continuity with what took place in the first installment and, at the same time, a germane commentary on the Western world’s proclivity for meddling in, taking over or even destroying the cultures it perceives as foreign to its own. Precisely because this message is made clear with small details and in very eloquent images (there are various in the action scenes), it’s hard to understand why Coogler was determined to draw the film out to over two and a half hours. In essence, it’s the same grandiloquence that weighed down some parts of the first film. As for the other major storyline, which addresses the process of mourning and the impossibility of overcoming certain losses, Wakanda Forever perhaps takes some risky decisions (the mid-credits scene, for example) but in general has managed to harness Boseman’s legacy in order to drive the plot in both an effective and poignant way. Solid proof of this is that it is embedded in the action without undermining the foundations of the saga and, what’s more, makes for a surprising resemblance to its forerunner, which itself had a lot to say about legacy and about loss and its emotional toll. It’s not the best Marvel movie but neither is it the disaster it had been rumored to be.

Pep Prieto
Pep Prieto. Journalist and writer. Series critic on ‘El Món a RAC1’ and for the program ‘Àrtic’ on Betevé. Author of the essay ‘Al filo del mañana’, about time-travelling cinema, and ‘Poder absoluto’, about cinema and politics.