Who would have thought that a film about a superhero would end up being this super-boring?

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, a trite, rambling, stretched piece of jigsaw puzzle that fits into Marvel’s cinematic universe’s overlong series of loosely connected movies and series, joins Thor: Love and Thunder and rival comic company’s Black Adam, in demolishing the trend of enjoyable big-budget superhero adventures.

Overstaying their welcome by five years (though Black Widow and Shang-Chi were exceptions), superhero movies, of late, have turned into a bad cliché: extensive sets, excessive visual effects, and too many characters with characterless backstories that you do not give a hoot about. We are living in the years where filmmakers and actors long to cash big cheques by landing work in franchises.

When cast, good actors dress up in hero uniforms of once-memorable characters from comics, and declaim dialogue in miniscule stories that have a maximum of two agendas: 1) continue to milk what the audience once genuinely loved in prior movies; and 2) stuff in the latest happening issue people are going wild over.

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever ranks among films that demolish the trend of enjoyable big-budget superhero adventures

In Wakanda Forever, we have the usual suspects of today’s Hollywood: women empowerment (there are no lead men characters in the film) and representation.

The only man who has comparable screentime to the women in the film is Namor (Tenoch Huerta Mejía), the half-breed King of Atlantis, whose people represent the Mesoamerican civilisation inspired by Mayan culture, and who also happens to be the not-so-bad-main-villain of the movie.

Namor, who is essentially the Aquaman of the Marvel movies, though his comic book history predates the DC hero by two years, and the women-in-charge of Wakanda, face-off in a tired plot about secreting and exploiting the uber-powerful, indestructible mineral Vibranium.

Like a car running out of gas, sputtering every few metres, we lurch into subplots of sacrifice, acceptance and stepping up for bigger challenges — which in this case, is the question of who will take up the mantle of the Black Panther after T’Challa’s (Chadwick Boseman) passing.

Despite the air of mystery pushed by Marvel’s PR, logic always dictated that T’Challa’s younger sister Shuri (Letitia Wright) would be the new champion of her nation.

While Black Panther was somewhat of a good enough action movie that made big-bucks at the box-office because of Boseman, Michael B. Jordan and the then hot-button issue of showcasing and championing African-American led narratives, Wakanda Forever decides to take a worse directorial route by overindulging in weepy sombreness and forgetting its chief prerogative: entertainment value.

The cast, Angela Basset, Lupita Nyong’o and Danai Gurira, are good actors, and the production value is there on the screen, but the bulk of the narrative feels like a protracted episode of a web-series, and not a feature film.

Returning director Ryan Coogler (Creed) has never been this bad; but then again, he has never been that good either. Uninspired direction, unengaging camera placements, predictive editing — almost all of Coogler’s artistically inclined technical decisions oscillate in the realm of mediocrity.

Save for the above-average action sequence at the end, with the new-age female Iron Man taking out uber-strong warriors from Atlantis (Dominique Thorne plays Riri Williams, a tech-genius who goes by the name of Ironheart in the comics), there is little to like in this two-hours-and-thirty-minutes-long movie.

One may feel choked-up by the tributes Wakanda Forever continuously offers to the late Boseman — a brilliant actor who had shone in every role he did, save Black Panther — but the extended grief, courtesy of the intercuts from the prior film, cannot help this movie.

In a way Wakanda Forever evokes a different kind of sadness that stems not only from the grief of losing a young talented actor. Rather, the sadness you feel is the result of the woeful state of affairs of modern commercial cinema.

Rated PG-13, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is playing in cinemas right now.

Published in Dawn, ICON, November 20th, 2022

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