Black Panther: Wakanda Forever

4K ULTRA HD BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Street Date 2/7/23;
Disney/Marvel;
Action;
Box Office $453.47 million;
$29.99 DVD, $35.99 Blu-ray, $41.99 UHD BD;
Rated ‘PG-13’ for sequences of strong violence, action and some language.
Stars Angela Bassett, Letitia Wright, Winston Duke, Danai Gurira, Florence Kasumba, Lupita Nyong’o, Martin Freeman, Tenoch Huerta, Michaela Coel, Mabel Cadena, Alex Livanalli, Dominique Thorne.

The death of Chadwick Boseman in 2020 left a huge vacuum in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Though his character of T’Challa had been positioned to have a significant role in the storylines to come, the studio choose to honor Boseman by not recasting the part. Thus, the sequel to 2018’s Black Panther and 30th film of the MCU would have to be rewritten to account for his absence.

Writer-director Ryan Coogler ably transitions the franchise in a new direction with Wakanda Forever, which also serves as a fitting tribute to Boseman and the impact of his loss.

The film turns its focus on T’Challa’s sister, Shuri (Letitia Wright), and mother, Ramonda (Angela Bassett), in the aftermath of his sudden death from a mysterious illness. Without the herb to create a new Black Panther, Wakanda is left without a protector, so Shuri turns to strengthening the forces of the Dora Milaje with technology. Meanwhile, Ramonda as queen faces relentless pressure from the outside world for Wakanda to share its most valuable resource, vibranium.

As the nations of the world search the seas for alternative sources of vibranium, they inadvertently disturb another long-hidden nation: Talokan, led by Namor (Tenoch Huerta), who vows to wage war on Wakanda unless they prevent their surface allies from seeking vibranium and threatening his undersea kingdom.

To do this, he demands they turn over the scientist responsible for a vibranium detection machine, who turns out to be M.I.T. student Riri Williams (Dominique Thorne). Unwilling to sacrifice a young girl to Namor, Shuri must find a way to fulfill her brother’s legacy and protect her nation from the attack to come.

That’s a lot of plot to cover while setting up several characters for future films and TV shows, a prospect that constantly threatens to weigh down the film’s beefy running time of more than two-and-a-half hours. The film sports top-notch visual effects and production design like its predecessors, but with so many characters ending up in armor or mechanical suits, the final battle at times feels like a big toy commercial.

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The film continues to explore many of the same themes of the first Black Panther, particularly the cultural impact of colonialism. The society of Talokan is rooted in Mesoamerican history, a bit of a departure from Namor’s comic book origins, where he is the king of Atlantis. This change ultimately suits the film (and the MCU) well, as it both strengthens the thematic ties between Wakanda and Namor’s people, while avoiding messy comparisons to DC by ceding depictions of Atlantis to the “Aquaman” movies.

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The Blu-ray includes an informative audio commentary with Coogler, co-writer Joe Robert Cole and cinematographer Autumn Durald Arkapaw, who provide a lot of good insights into how the film was structured and shot.

Behind-the-scenes details are also provided in two featurettes: the 11-minute “Envisioning Two Worlds” takes a look at the overall production, while the six-minute “Passing the Mantle” focuses on how T’Challa’s death impacted individual characters.

The most interesting extra on the Blu-ray might be the four deleted scenes, which run a total of about 10 minutes. These play like mini-movies that expound on character motivations from the film, while also hinting that the political discord within Wakanda might be more severe than it appears.

There’s also an amusing two-and-a-half-minute gag reel.

In the 4K combo pack, the bonus materials are available only on the regular Blu-ray. The extras are also available with digital copies of the film.

 

Black Panther

BLU-RAY REVIEW: 

Street 5/15/18;
Disney/Marvel;
Action;
Box Office $694 million;
$29.99 DVD, $39.99 Blu-ray, 39.99 UHD BD;
Rated ‘PG-13’ for prolonged sequences of action violence, and a brief rude gesture.
Stars Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Martin Freeman, Daniel Kaluuya, Letitia Wright, Winston Duke, Sterling K. Brown, Angela Bassett, Forest Whitaker, Andy Serkis.

Black Panther is a prime example of the effectiveness the superhero genre can have in drawing upon the mythological aspects of comic book storytelling to provide a thought-provoking allegory for modern times that is both powerful and entertaining.

Director Ryan Coogler’s entry into the Marvel Cinematic Universe (the 18th film to enter the canon) is one of those films that presents a distinct point of view yet is also likely to be differently interpreted based on the mindset of the viewer, to the degree that deciphering its true message should spark a wide array of debates for some time to come. But, at its core, as a character-driven superhero action blockbuster, the film ranks among the most memorable and well-crafted in the genre, with the most pressing factor of its ultimate ranking on any best-of lists likely to be predominately determined by one’s own personal connection to the characters and story.

Not unlike the “Thor” movies, but more compelling and grounded, the story is driven by Shakespearean family drama, in this case centered on the character of T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman), who was introduced in 2016’s Captain America: Civil War.

Picking up from the events of that film, T’Challa must return to his home country of Wakanda to assume the mantle of king.

As the centerpiece of one of the film’s primary motifs of things hiding in plain sight, the tiny African nation presents itself as a poor third-world nation, but in actuality is a technologically advanced civilization fueled by a magical element that crashed into Earth long ago.

T’Challa’s reign is soon threatened by a long-lost cousin (Michael B. Jordan) who grew up in America after a devastating fallout between T’Challa’s father and uncle, and resents that Wakanda never sought to help the global plight of the descendants of Africa.

Black Panther does a good job incorporating traditional African tribal culture and the natural beauty of the continent into a strong “what if” scenario involving a mighty African kingdom that had control of its own resources and avoided the imperialism of the past few centuries.

The film invites comparisons to The Lion King for its rich visual and musical representation of Africa. Yet Coogler is also adept at presenting the sci-fi elements of the story, from Wakanda’s technical marvels and vast cityscapes, to an energizing action setpiece in South Korea.

Black Panther also presents strong representation for women, from the spunky intelligence of T’Challa’s sister, Shuri (Letitia Wright), who spearheads of the designs of Wakanda’s new technologies; to Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o), T’Challa’s love interest and a savvy Wakandan spy; to the fierce Okoye (Danai Gurira), who commands a fighting force of female Wakandan warriors who would give Wonder Woman’s Amazons a run for their money.

The Blu-ray contains a number of good extras aimed at fans of both the film and the comic book Black Panther. Primary among these is a 20-minute roundtable discussion between Coogler, the film’s producers and some of the writers of the “Black Panther” comic book over the past few decades.

Coogler also offers an introduction to the film and an insightful commentary track that imparts some deeper meaning on some of the character dynamics.

The Blu-ray also includes four deleted scenes that expand a few aspects of the story.

In addition, the disc includes 25 minutes of behind-the-scenes featurettes and a two-minute gag reel. There’s also a nine-minute retrospective of the MCU’s 10-year history, plus a two-minute preview of the next film, Ant-Man and the Wasp, which hits theaters July 6.

The digital versions include exclusive Wakandan travel ads, plus a featurette about the fight training for the film’s stunts.