What’s imperative to “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” is the way Coogler centers righteous rage. Ramonda’s first big scene is her admonishing the United Nations for expecting her to share vibranium with the world, even as they try to steal the resource from her nation. Bassett, with a capital-A, acts in a sequence where her voice booms, her gaze is fixed and unforgiving, and the venom is felt. And yet, Shuri, who has buried herself in her lab, developing dangerous weapons, feels worse. She wants to see the world burn. Their shared anger forces a spew of short-sighted decisions that lead to further escalations with Namor—who desperately angles to avenge his mother and his ancestors. The film attempts to position the trio as different stages of grief, but in trying to get viewers up to speed on the atrocities experienced by Namor, it becomes slow and overblown.
Maybe somewhere a way existed to connect these arcs together. But that would require better visual storytelling than the movie offers. Far too often, the dialogue stays on the surface, either by providing reams of exposition, externalizing exactly what’s on the character’s mind, or by trying to meld together the real-life loss felt by the actors with that of the characters. The latter certainly offers these performers a necessary chance to process their hurt on screen, but when did filmmakers forget how to show without telling? Why are contemporary blockbusters so enamored with holding the audience’s hand by providing every minute detail? At one point, after Namor explains his entire backstory, Shuri responds with, “Why are you telling me all of this?” It feels like a note Coogler gave to himself.
The shortcomings in dialogue and story, and how often “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” bows to IP-driven needs, would be easier to stomach if the visual components weren’t so creaky. The jittery fight sequences are too difficult to follow: inelegant compositions blur into an incomprehensible sludge with every cut by editors Michael P. Shawver, Kelley Dixon, and Jennifer Lame. Admittedly, there were projection issues with my screening of the film, so I will refrain from totally dismissing the all-too-dark lighting, but the actual framing by cinematographer Autumn Durald Arkapaw, working wih the film’s copious visual effects, lacks a sense of space anyways. Scenes of everyday life in Wakanda—Black folks shopping, communities laughing and enjoying each other’s company—that once filled the viewer with joy feel artificial here. The vast landscapes of the nation, which once were filled with splendor, are now murky backgrounds. Some of that awe is recaptured when we see Talokan and its immense Mayan architecture and decorative wall paintings. But you wish, much like “Black Panther,” that Namor was first given his own movie where these scenes could breathe, and we could become as integrated in this kingdom as we became in Wakanda.