dir: Ryan Coogler
I won’t say that it feels like a missed opportunity. I won’t say that I was bitterly disappointed.
But it definitely feels like something of a letdown.
There was always going to be another Black Panther film; that was a given when the first one made over a billion dollars. That it was such an inevitability even given the death of the wonderful guy who played the Black Panther, is kinda strange, to me.
And I say this as someone who’s read multiple runs of the Black Panther comic, those from the past like Jack Kirby up to Christopher Priest, Reggie Hudlin’s run, and more recently Ta-Nahesi Coates and John Ridley: I am more than comfortable with someone else, anyone else taking up the mantle. Shuri, his sister in the comics ultimately has to take his place, multiple times in different runs, and that’s fine.
It’s just that this very long film, over 2 hours and 40 minutes, isn’t really about the Black Panther or a Black Panther at all.
There are some good ideas buried under all this run time and terrible CGI. Wakanda is, after all, a fictional place. In the story, in the comics, the happenstance fact that a massive meteorite containing a precious metal found nowhere else allowed this one African country to never be conquered by any other nation or to be colonised by the European empires. Wakanda is the Unconquered Realm.
There are no unconquered realms in Africa. There are barely any countries there that don’t bear the scars of colonialism, of genocide, of resource theft, of slavery.
Which is one of the reasons why the idea, the myth, shall we say, of Wakanda is so powerful, so enticing.
And so, as another secret nation we find out about comes into the picture that was almost exterminated by the Spanish, this time, we are introduced to Talokan.
Not Atlantis. Talokan. Mayan people who started being oppressed and found some vibranium, and then disappeared under the waves to live in peace away from the colonisers of the world for about the next 500 years.
And they, too, have a hankering for being left alone.
And they, too, have a leader / king / god. And he has cute little wings on his feet!
As he explains, he has no love for the surface world, which is why he came up with the nom de guerre of Namor – Si(n) amor, without love.
That’s a bit sad. He is a somewhat complex character – an antagonist who’s not an entirely dumb villain, until and of course he goes off the fucking deep end like they always do.
The Talokans, they just want to be left in peace. The Wakandans want to be left in peace. There’s no story, though, if we let them just be.
The Americans, the French and the other jerk nations of the world can’t stand it that they can’t get no vibranium, and in their pursuit of it they threaten the Talokans, who blame the Wakandans for revealing vibranium’s existence to the world, so the Talokans attack the Wakandans etc etc.
This all sounds a bit interesting, doesn’t it?
Well, you’d think so. But for me, for most of the film’s running time, I was wondering what the hell I was watching and why.
The reasons, on my part, are going to sound pretty dumb, I guess. I accept that. But it’s not going to stop me anyway. What would The Internet even be if people stopped themselves from posting every superficial idea that ever popped into their heads and didn’t disgorge them online?
The film can’t get away from the fact that Chadwick Boseman died. It’s lovely that they honour him in the ways that they do. But it still drags the film in ways it didn’t need to. The emotional moment, cathartic moment or release, that admittedly made me cry, comes too late in the proceedings. By the time it comes, and you see him again, that face, that smile, you’re thinking “I would have been better off watching him in one of his other movies rather than sitting through all of this”.
Tenoch Huerta Mejia is a great choice for this reimagining of Namor. I love the idea of a Mayan culture revitilised through necessity and technology under the sea.
How it looks though… I think I read a lot of stuff online over the last three months saying that the special effects industry, as in the people sitting at computers digitally creating all this stuff for the movies, is in great turmoil. Various journalists report stuff like how hideous working conditions are for many of these workers, not in terms of them being forced to work in lithium mines or anything, but because of unrealistic deadlines and people being expected to work 18+ hour days, with effects companies competing against each other for the work, and contracting for tighter and tighter budgets and deadlines; what we’re getting, as audiences, is shitty visuals by the lowest bidders who finished the work in the least amount of time.
The effects work in this flick in many scenes is terrible. Stuff looked terrible and fake, really fake and poorly done. They try, like they have been for the last twenty years or so, to hide the crappiness of the effects by setting most scenes at night, or in dark places, and it really doesn’t work. All the work put into making Wakanda look like a real place is absent from Talokan, which looks like a cross between a Tiki bar and the underwater knickknacks you’d put in an aquarium to give your bored goldfish something to look at every 15 fifteen seconds.
The script? Eh, it’s not the greatest. Lots of solid dialogue is given to Queen Ramonda (the always great Angela Bassett who never has to get her groove back because she never lost it), who acts the hell out of her lines. She is often great, but she’s often also overacting in a way that feels like she was reaching for one of those golden statues simply with the volume of her voice and the straining of her neck muscles.
She gives her all, and we appreciate her for that.
Letitia Wright as Shuri, has a burden too great to shoulder here. I don’t think anyone could make up for Chadwick’s absence (I mean the actor, and not the character he played). It’s too much for her, and it would have been too much for anyone playing the character. It felt like she had a better handle on the character in the previous iterations that we’ve seen. I’m hoping that we’ll get to see the character she is towards the end of the film in the future, rather than the generic, inconsistency of “whatever will I do now that my brother is gone?” nervy Shuri, which felt like it went on far too long. And the curious attempts to make her seem like a lunatic who might want to burn the world because she couldn’t save T’Challa might make sense from a different character in a different movie, but it makes little sense here.
The main reason is that Shuri, the character, is a genius, but more importantly, is kind. She would no more want to destroy the world that she would wear a cardigan. That’s, just, like, my opinion, man.
The stuff with the Americans – look, I always like seeing Martin Freeman, and Julia Louis-Dreyfus, and there’s nothing funnier or more enjoyable that having any Wakandans referring to Everrett Ross as “Coloniser”, but they really added very little to any of this. They just ate up screen time in something that was already an hour too long for this story.
The way that the Talokans other than Namor are depicted – it didn’t really make that much sense to me. If we can accept that vibranium has these technologically magical qualities that can lead to a civilisation far more advanced than the other nations on the planet, why are these people still dressing and trying to look exactly the same as they did 500 years ago? If we accept that the Wakandans look and feel like a combination of the incredible patterns and fabrics and clothes of actual African design, mixed with futuristic elements, why couldn’t they do something similar with the Talokans / Mayans?
These bluish fuckers are wandering around in loincloths and feather head dresses, and they’ve got vibranium, looking like people cosplaying Na’vi from Avatar? What the absolute fuck…
A lack of time, a lack of resources, a lack of imagination? A lack of giving a fuck? Can you really be spending hundreds of millions of dollars to make these monstrosities, and still going “eh, it’s shit, but it will do”? That’s no disrespect to any of the actors or any of the tireless people who worked to bring this stuff to life – the poor decision-making is from people way above their paygrades.
The plot doesn’t really hang together that well, and many if not most of Namor’s decisions are really dopey decisions. Someone invents a machine that can detect vibranium. He is determined to kill that someone. Even though the machine exists, the plan exists, he decides that if he kills the inventor, then somehow that will erase the machine and its designs from existence?
He and his warriors are unstoppable in combat, but…Why? So they’re using vibranium. Everyone’s using vibranium! Every time the Wakandans try to do anything with any of their advanced technology, the Talokans literally just stick a spear into it. Bang, like that, it stops working. But why…
It also bugged me that the soundtrack is so poor compared to the first one, or at least it didn’t at all feel as well used as in Black Panther. I’ve listened to that soundtrack hundreds of times: I’ve listened to this one’s soundtrack twice. Once all the way through nonplussed, the second to make sure nothing would stick. And it doesn’t. Another opportunity lost.
The action set pieces allowing the magnificent Okoye (Danai Gurira) and the rest of the Dora Milaje to shine don’t really work as well as in the first flick, I’m sorry to say. They make a tentative stab at replicating some of the stuff from the incredible Seoul scenes from the first flick, and I’m sorry to say again it falls flat in comparison and also on its own. Other scenes seem poorly choreographed and blocked, and the Dora Milaje themselves no longer seem like the fiercest warriors on the planet – they just look like women with spears, just doing stuff, trying to get by in this turvy topsy world, being beaten up by other people with spears, just because…
Belatedly, Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o) turns up in the film, and I never knew how much I missed her until they brought her back. The former War Dog spy gets to be the most competent, the most effective character in the flick, and once she’s back in the thick of things I couldn’t help but wonder “why is she not queen of this unconquered realm?”
She would make a better monarch, and better Black Panther, that’s for sure. It was great seeing her again. Of course her main purpose is to set up the future Black Panther(s), but hell, I’ll take what I can get at this stage.
Another welcome return is Winston Duke as M’Baku, leader of the Jabari. He is a massive cartoon in the middle of a CGI pantomime, but he at least seems like he is having a shitload of fun. That voice he does is the purest embodiment of a chef’s kiss that I can imagine.
The biggest surprise comes from the return, if only in spirit form, of a character from the last film, and when he pops up, damn, it’s a real “shit just got real” moment, no matter how fantastical it is. He brings such relish to playing that swaggering motherfucker, a swagger that this flick sorely lacks.
On first viewing, yeah, I have to say I felt gutted, and that it embarrasses me that I could keep listing stuff that did not work for me. But I don’t want to be that person. I loathe those kinds of people online. I loathe that persnickety, mewling bullshit that people do online ranting in videos about how such and such movie is a betrayal of the source material or that this change or that change signals the end of human civilisation as we know it. Bleh, fuck that and fuck the people that do that.
I also can’t pretend to be a beacon of positivity, either, though. Sometimes stuff doesn’t work, with all the goodwill in the world. This flick doesn’t entirely work, but maybe the next ones will.
6 times the name Toussaint is such a cool name out of 10
“To everyone, he was a king. But to me, he was everything.” - Black Panther Wakanda Forever