Culture Film Reviews

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever Review

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Phase 4 of the MCU has been a bit of a confusing mess. Not that it’s been bad, in fact, some of my favourite Marvel projects came out in the last two years. I really enjoyed Eternals and Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, and most of the shows have, at the very least, been fun. At the same time, however, the overall quality of Marvel’s output has drastically declined since Avengers: Endgame. Writing and special effects have bordered on awful at times, especially in the other two Marvel films released this year: Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness and Thor: Love and Thunder. At the same time, the MCU has felt more disconnected than ever. World-changing events happened in almost every release, from massive fights in NYC to the sky being turned back in time and, most egregiously, the giant celestial emerging in the middle of the ocean. Allegedly, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever was the end of Phase 4, ending two years of films united only by the shared theme of passing the torch on to a new generation of superheroes, but it doesn’t feel like a film that changes the status quo of the MCU in the way that previous phase finales did. I guess we’ve almost entirely replaced the original Avengers team at this point, but that’s about it. This lack of finality or shift in the status quo is probably my only real complaint with Wakanda Forever though.

I’ve enjoyed a decent amount of the MCU, even if I complain about it a lot, but Wakanda Forever might be the first entry in the franchise, which feels more like cinema than a rollercoaster ride. Even when Marvel films have been good, they have been creatively uninteresting. Wakanda Forever is the first one whose technical aspects stood out to me as much as the story and acting. Recent discourse on the decline in the quality of the MCU has focused on increasingly poor special effects. Even at their height, Marvel films have tended to have unremarkable CGI and relied on green screen to the point of distraction, but Phase 4 has regressed so far that some effects would look more at home in the old Fantastic 4 films than anything released post-2008. Wakanda Forever largely bucks that trend. Its use of green screen backgrounds still undermines certain shots, but even where I noticed obvious green screens, they were still far less distracting than in Endgame or Black Widow. One of Black Panther’s biggest weaknesses was the dodgy CGI in its climactic battle. Its sequel completely avoids this, and despite being as dependent on CGI as before, this is definitely the best CGI that Marvel has ever produced.

In terms of music and cinematography, Wakanda Forever is leagues ahead of any other entry in the series. Other than the ‘Avengers theme’, there isn’t a single piece of memorable or interesting music in the MCU. Wakanda Forever doesn’t necessarily introduce a leitmotif as iconic as the Avengers theme, but its soundtrack has far more depth than the blaring orchestral scores of its predecessors. The way the score is integrated into the story and action feels so fresh for the MCU, even though many other films have done it before.

I feel similarly about the film’s cinematography. While failing to reach arthouse-level, Wakanda Forever uses its camera in a way that surpasses other superhero films and, more generally, recent western blockbusters. This is probably the first Marvel film which I would describe as visually beautiful, and the film’s cinematography is even used to convey the story and establish characterisation with a maturity most recent blockbusters have lacked. Black Panther: Wakanda Forever might not be perfect, and it fails to match some of the best releases of 2022, but it is by far the best MCU film thus far. I have given it five stars in that context.

Don’t go in expecting the artistry of something like The Northman or action on par with Everything Everywhere All At Once because I doubt the MCU will ever manage to completely transcend the limitations of being the world’s biggest film franchise, but Wakanda Forever is probably about as good a film as we will ever see come out of Marvel.

Image Credit: “27th Annual Art Of Motion Picture Costume Design” by waltarrrrr is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.