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As Moving As ‘Wakanda Forever’ Is, It Also Suffers From Clunky Storytelling

Okuye (Danai Gurira) has a heart-to-heart with Queen Ramonda (Angela Bassett) in "Black Panther: Wakanda Forever"
Okuye (Danai Gurira) has a heart-to-heart with Queen Ramonda (Angela Bassett) in “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever”
Illustration:Jianan Liu/HuffPost Photo: 2022 Marvel

Warning: This article contains spoilers.

It’s been days since members of HuffPost’s Culture team have experienced writer-director Ryan Coogler’s “Black Panther: Wakanda,” the most hyped movie of the year, and yet here we are, still thinking about it.

But it’s not just costume designer Ruth E. Carter’s stunning clothes, the phenomenal underwater and Wakanda production design or the stirring tribute to the late Chadwick Boseman, who played the title character in the first film, that has us in our feelings.

It’s areas where it stumbles as well — queer-baiting with a few of the Dora Milaje, mishandling some themes around colonialism and saving some characters and plot development for the post-credits scenes, to name a few. The movie has given us a lot to chew on. But should you watch it? Dive into our Slack chat below to find out.

How The Film Honored Chadwick Boseman

Candice Frederick: In the weeks leading up to “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever,” the conversation has largely centered on it being a tribute to Chadwick Boseman, and subsequently Black Panther. How do you think the film handled that challenge?

Taryn Finley: “Wakanda Forever” was absolutely a beautiful tribute to Chadwick. There were so many moments throughout the movie that you could really feel were intentionally set up to give space to honor his life, from the opening Marvel sequence to the funeral scene to the post-credit screen. His presence was felt. But the most remarkable piece for me was the total silence at certain points among the crowd in the theater I watched it in. And from what I’m hearing, so many audiences are experiencing the same thing at theaters across the country. It feels like a collective homegoing experience.

Shuri (Letitia Wright ) mourns her late brother T'Challa in "Black Panther: Wakanda Forever."
Shuri (Letitia Wright ) mourns her late brother T’Challa in “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.”
Marvel

Ruth Samuel: Precisely that. It was extremely thoughtful and well-done. There was an interview during the press tour in which Ryan Coogler talked about not only grieving Chadwick and his life, but his character and the ideas that had to be scrapped. Frankly, I cannot imagine having to rewrite a whole production while navigating such immense loss. During the burial ceremony and procession, you could tell that the characters’ emotions were raw and genuine. The grief was palpable and honest.

CF: Yeah, I agree with what you both said. It truly is a homegoing experience, made even more beautiful with the gorgeous costume designs and luscious production design.

RS: I think that’s what struck me about this movie. I cried far more than I expected to, but not only because of the loss, but because of how pain was depicted and portrayed. It’s not neat; it’s not clean, and losing an immediate relative is life-altering. While everyone keeps operating like “business as usual,” your whole world has frozen — and you’re expected to keep going because our society does not see grief or mourning as the journey it is but rather a moment. When Shuri said she wanted to burn the whole world down after losing her brother, that is real. An incredible performance by Letitia there.

CF: I get that, too, and agree. But then I think the mournful aspects are sometimes to the film’s detriment. Because certain characters, like the fascinating Okoye (Danai Gurira) and Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o) seemed reduced, while others like Shuri (Letitia Wright) were inflated. I actually did not like Letitia Wright as Black Panther at all.

Others have pointed this out, but I don’t think Wright has the physicality to embody the legitimately threatening force of Black Panther. It took me out every time.

RS: I’m not a comics gal, so I can’t speak to the legitimacy of her subsuming that role or whether that is in the book’s plot — but who would you have rather seen?

The new Black Panther (Letitia Wright) has big shoes to fill in "Wakanda Forever"
The new Black Panther (Letitia Wright) has big shoes to fill in “Wakanda Forever”
Marvel

On The New Black Panther

CF: I am not a comic book reader, either. And I certainly don’t watch all the comic book movies. But I really like Shuri as herself, a character I think is complex on her own. I would have preferred someone like Okoye as Black Panther or like … maybe let Black Panther rest … since he’s dead?

I think there could have been another way to play that. Though, comic book readers have said Shuri does become Black Panther. I just don’t see it for her through Wright.

RS: I see, I see — interesting.

TF: It was a difficult thing to balance. So as much as I liked and really enjoyed “Wakanda Forever” overall, there were definitely some things that took me out of it, Candice. In the comics, Shuri, of course, becomes the Black Panther, but I don’t know if I was totally sold on Letitia Wright as Black Panther, either. Of course, this story didn’t shape out the way the creators intended it when the Black Panther franchise started, but this felt off a bit.

CF: Right.

TF: Don’t get me wrong, I think she was a great lead, but there’s something about what I as a non-comic book person understand Black Panther to be that feels not quite it with Letitia. But that might be because of the precedent Chadwick set. Not fair to Letitia, but it definitely took me out of the movie a little.

RS: Speaking of the way the creators intended, do we know whether Queen Ramonda’s (Angela Bassett’s) death was a part of the plot?

TF: Also, I saw it in IMAX. Highly recommend.

RS: That threw me for a loop, and I was inconsolable after that.

Queen Ramonda (Angela Bassett) faces a difficult challenge in "Black Panther: Wakanda Forever."
Queen Ramonda (Angela Bassett) faces a difficult challenge in “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.”
Annette Brown/Marvel

CF: I also saw it in IMAX. Taryn, do you know whether Queen Ramonda’s death is in the comics?

TF: I actually don’t know that part, Candice. That shit took me all the way out, though. I fell out of my seat!

CF: I don’t think Queen Ramonda needed to die. But that also goes back to my critique that the film is a bit too mournful, suffocatingly so, at times.

RS: It just didn’t seem fair to Shuri or the community. Like, I am so sorry.

CF: Angela Bassett is so, so, so good here, too.

RS: Then they played Burna Boy in the next few scenes? I was SOBBING. But Angela was stellar.

TF: Is this the first film Angela Bassett’s character has died in? I know it’s a movie, but that felt personal.

CF: A friend told me that Queen Ramonda needed to die to help Shuri come into her power (and rage?) as Black Panther and … for me, that’s just another indicator that maybe she didn’t need to be Black Panther.

Certainly the first film I have seen her die in, Taryn.

TF: That’s a good point, Candice. I think a big part of that just felt rushed.

CF: Yes!

TF: Hell, I wanted revenge after seeing her die.

RS: HELLO! Like, genuinely.

Namor (Tenoch Huerta) is a visible threat to Wakanda in the new film.
Namor (Tenoch Huerta) is a visible threat to Wakanda in the new film.
Eli Adé/Marvel

On Namor And The Talokanil

CF: LOL of course, burn it all up. Do you think that the film gave the extensive story of Namor (Tenoch Huerta) and his tribe enough or too little space in this story?

RS: First of all, that man is the finest villain I’ve seen in a minute.

TF: I wanted to see more of Namor’s fine ass.

RS: But back to the question: YES.

CF: LOL, true.

RS: BIBLICALLY FINE. I was like, “Wait, wait..why do I feel things…? He’s evil’” But he’s right!

CF: Evil-ish.

RS: Like, on the note of his origin story — death to colonizers! Sorry, not sorry!

TF: I want a film about their world. Like, that’s so out of the blue for me that another place on earth has vibranium. I wanted to spend more time with them and less in America. I know why they brought in the U.S. government, but, my God, we spent too much damn time in Alexandria, Virginia, and not enough with my underwater boyfriend.

RS: And let me just say this: it would be the French to stage a failed attack on Wakanda’s operation center in Mali.

TF: LMAO IT WOULD.

RS: Then sit up there in the U.N. meeting talking about sharing resources? Get the fuck on. LMAO.

CF: I am of the mind that there was SO MUCH time spent with Namor and also … not enough? I think I just felt — to your point, Taryn — that maybe their story needed to be fleshed out better.

And I honestly forgot that there was a whole America scene because it just felt shoehorned in and I just didn’t care. Like, Wakanda is on fire. Let’s get back to that.

TF: There are a lot of holes when it comes to the characters I really liked coming into play here. I adore Ironheart, aka Ruth’s twin (Dominique Thorne), but I got a bit lost in how they introduced her character. Like, who’s the professor that has you making equipment for the CIA? Why? And I know your mama is looking for you while you up here kidnapped underwater.

MIT student Riri Williams, aka Ironheart (Dominique Thorne), is recruited for a special Wakanda mission.
MIT student Riri Williams, aka Ironheart (Dominique Thorne), is recruited for a special Wakanda mission.
Eli Joshua Adé /Marvel

RS: LMAO. All extremely valid questions! The way she asked to call her mama and they said no?!

CF: LOL! I am still confused about this professor situation that has Namor inflamed like this.

RS: The scream I scrome.

CF: I enjoyed that she brought levity, but … I think that’s about it for me. I do enjoy that she gave Shuri a little friend. I so missed the female friendships I saw more of in the first film.

TF: In theory, I like the bridges we’re crossing connecting colonialism and militarism as the root of all evils that Wakanda and Taloka share, but the bridge is unstable. It’s shaking. We’re about to fall. Then Namor is going to have to catch a ride on his whale bus to come save us.

RS: “Whale bus,” “fish man” and “bald-headed demon.” Please, I’m wheezing.

TF: Also, they played my girl Okoye with all the bald-headed jokes! But I did laugh! LMAO.

CF: I think those colonialism themes could have been fleshed out a tad more. Because like … I know what they’re saying, but… I needed more exposition. I did appreciate that Namor told his No. 2 that Wakanda isn’t the enemy.

RS: But I did enjoy those intersections a lot. Just needed more fine-tuning. I think the story broadly made sense in that we see how one group has witnessed what enslavement, colonization and imperialism can do to a people while another is grappling with self-preservation — and whether the notion of solidarity can be achieved without infighting. I was actually pleased with them getting on the conquistadors’ asses because people forget who the Spanish ARE.

CF: M’Baku (Winston Duke) is a joy to watch every time. That scene you mention, Taryn, where he calls Okoye a “bald-headed demon” while comically eating a carrot? Gold.

RS: When Namor punched him into the next century? The wind knocked out of ME in that theater!

Attuma (Alex Livinalli) and Namora (Mabel Cadena) wage war against Wakanda in the new sequel to "Black Panther"
Attuma (Alex Livinalli) and Namora (Mabel Cadena) wage war against Wakanda in the new sequel to “Black Panther”
Marvel

The (Many) Big Post-Movie Conversations

CF: There’s been a critical discussion about the way people of color are pitted against each other in this movie. Some people don’t like it. What do you think?

RS: It’s reality LOL.

CF: I agree.

RS: Like … yeah, it happens. Even Black people have intracommunal beef, please.

TF: Unrelated, but I want M’Baku to crush me with his thighs.

CF: Always related, TBH.

RS: And the truth is, a lot of this comes from colonialism and having such different approaches to the oppressor. So VERY spot on.

Like, sorry to say it, I get Namor. Should he have threatened Shuri and ’em into joining forces with him? No. BUT, again, death to colonizers!

CF: Yeah, and I think it’s fine to say that. That’s a truth.

RS: You think I’m finna play nice with you surface folks after decimating my people? Then coming BACK to get underwater vibranium on MY land that you forced me to retreat to?!

TF: As soon as I saw the Talokanils introduced, I knew we were about to have Color Wars TM. It very much is what it is, but I also don’t expect a Marvel movie to go in depth the way it should to address the many, many levels involved in the ways we’re all oppressed and how white supremacy in and of itself is what causes these frictions between us. I think that explains a lot of the holes in this three-hour movie. It’s still Disney.

CF: Yeah, though I think this film does point to all of that. But I also think the film is WAY too overloaded to give ANY of its storylines, beyond the Boseman Memorial, as much depth as it deserves.

Interestingly, this dialogue comes right on the heels of the debate around how “The Woman Kingdetailed intercontinental slavery in Africa. Like, people are going to be in their feelings about these things. But these are discussions that we need to be having.

TF: Very true. “Wakanda Forever” did a lot of teasing. Parts of me were satisfied while others not so much.

Aneka (Michaela Coel), a queer Dora Milaje, is frustratingly shortchanged in the new film.
Aneka (Michaela Coel), a queer Dora Milaje, is frustratingly shortchanged in the new film.
Annette Brown/Marvel

The ‘Wakanda Forever’ Characters Who Deserved More

CF: Same. I maintain that the production design and cinematography were both fab. But sometimes in a very … “beautiful gowns” kind of way for me.

Another conversation I’ve been hearing is how Aneka (Michaela Coel), one of the very few queer characters in this franchise, barely has a presence in this movie. That also rubbed me the wrong way because I was looking forward to Coel, and there’s been so much press about her being in the movie. But like, she’s not really. It’s giving me Zendaya’s five minutes in “Dune” vibes.

TF: I was very disappointed in how little we saw of Aneka.

RS: I noticed the kiss on the head she gave to another Dora Milaje (Ayo, played by Florence Kasumba), which was nice, but short.

CF: Blink-and-you-miss-it moment.

RS: Felt very hyped. Then, Lupita (Nyong’o, who plays Nakia). Oh, baby. A whole hour in … and then we see her.

CF: Clocks in at about an hour and disappears throughout most. For shame.

TF: I was looking forward to it, too, Candice. It feels like, again, more Marvel breadcrumbs to get you excited to see the next film in 3-4 years. I think because they do this so much, there are missed opportunities to really get to know certain characters.

CF: I forgot she was even going to be in this movie until she just … shows up. I hear she’s in the post-credits scene. But as a personal rule, I never stay for those. Whatever you need to tell me with your film needs to be said while the film is still happening.

And I agree, Taryn! The film is just too stuffed! And not in a good way.

Nakia's (Lupita Nyong'o) absence is much felt as she enters the film around the 60-minute mark.
Nakia’s (Lupita Nyong’o) absence is much felt as she enters the film around the 60-minute mark.
Marvel Studios

TF: I will give Marvel credit for making this a mid-credit scene with that huge bomb they dropped on us, instead of leaving it until the very, very end.

RS: I broke down in the post-credits. And I typically don’t stay, but I was busy wiping tears LOL. Literally just happened to see it by luck and wanted to listen to Rihanna LMAO.

TF: Prince T’Challa. Aka Toussaint. WHEW!

RS: The symbolism with Haiti? Chef’s kiss.

TF: Not gonna lie, that was THE highlight for me. My favorite part of the film, hands down.

CF: I will watch this on DVD then because I think the only time I was truly moved in the movie was with Namor’s little backstory. I think because the Boseman/Black Panther funeral was … expected. Someone else described their experience leaving the theater as “numb,” and I think that’s where I’m at with it.

RS: And they didn’t put a yellow filter over it to give the illusion of a “Developing Country.” It always irritates me when films do that. Patently racist and colonial.

TF: It explains why Nakia was so cagey. But there was still something that made me kinda upset that wasn’t explored during the main part of the film.

RS: I left very emotionally drained, but appreciative.

CF: Yes, Taryn! That should have been in the film! How do you leave plot development to after the film ends? That’s a clown move to me, fam. The fact that Nakia doesn’t go to T’Challa’s funeral? Also odd to me. I kept wondering if Nyong’o was filming a whole other movie at the same time and needed to just ring in for this every once in a while.

TF: Marvel makes you do so much work. I acknowledge that’s probably a part of the allure for tried and true Marvelheads. But for me, a casual Marvel girl, aka I’m rooting for everybody Black Marvel girl, I don’t want to have to do all the work.

The late Chadwick Boseman receives a tribute fit for a king in beautiful scene from "Black Panther: Wakanda Forever."
The late Chadwick Boseman receives a tribute fit for a king in beautiful scene from “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.”
Marvel

So, Should You Watch It?

CF: I need the story of every film to be developed, whether it’s Marvel or any other. This all said, do you think people should watch “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever?” What’s your verdict? I say yes, for the experience. But It’s far from a perfect film and quite frustrating sometimes. And make sure you go to the restroom beforehand. Because it’s a nearly three-hour movie, and it feels like one.

RS: I don’t think any movie should be longer than 90 mins, and I say yes, go see it! Movies can try two hours, but that’s pushing it, seriously. I’m a TV sitcoms girl.

TF: Yes, but in IMAX if they can. It was a great way of honoring Chadwick Boseman, as a filmgoer, and entertaining to watch. The story isn’t perfect, but if you bring good snacks and good company, it’s three hours well spent. Marvel tried it because only for this film would I have spent three hours in a dark room with strangers and their kids. I had fun though. LOL.

Conversation has been lightly edited for style.

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