The Marvel Cinematic Universe is in a weird place right now. Just after its height of being one of the most profitable and respected franchises in all of film history, it has found itself in a sort of weird limbo. A mix of trying to modernize old superhero stories with an incredibly stubborn and critical audience is an almost impossible task that producer Kevin Feige has now practically dedicated his life to pulling off.
The franchise is soon to be in its fifth “phase,” as Black Panther: Wakanda Forever ended its fourth. Being the phase to begin and end over the COVID pandemic, multiple factors led to this phase’s culmination of movies having very inconsistent reactions from fans.
While Black Widow was deemed disappointing, Shang-Chi proved to be one of the best newcomers. Eternals divided the fanbase on opinion, while it was very hard to find someone that didn’t love Spider-Man: No Way Home. Doctor Strange also divided the fanbase in his sequel, with some enjoying the spectacles of CGI while others think it took the place of a good plot. Thor: Love and Thunder was unanimously forgettable, replacing an expectedly insidious villain with cheesy dialogue and overdone humor. Sprinkled in between these movies were Disney Plus-exclusive television shows that had just as mixed reactions. While WandaVision served as a mind-bending ode to The Twilight Zone, The Falcon and The Winter Soldier had its plot thinned by action. Loki and Hawkeye both served as fan favorites, and Oscar Issac’s Moon Knight debuted as an incredibly unique hero with much more likely to come. Ms. Marvel and She-Hulk each divided the fanbase, with some claiming silliness ruined them, while others felt the actresses left them wanting more.
Through all the franchise’s ups and downs, the road of a particular superhero had always seemed easy. Black Panther has been in the universe of Marvel comics almost since their beginning and has served as a perfect balance between badass and relatable. The casting of Chadwick Boseman for the role was one that audiences had the fewest qualms with, because they really didn’t know much about him. Luckily, as often happens with Disney’s amazing casting directors, the decision was correct.
The character’s debut in Captain America: Civil War left the fanbase in awe, as Boseman pulled off what was expected of the character perfectly. While stealthy and mysterious, he was equally confident and athletic. Boseman gave you the impression that he truly was royalty with his poise and tone. Two years later, his own movie finally hit the big screen, and it has since been regarded as one of the MCU’s biggest successes.
A combination of Boseman’s consistent performance, unreal supporting roles from Letitia Wright’s Shuri and Danai Gurira’s Okoye, and a complete refresh of villainy from Michael B. Jordan’s Killmonger made the franchise’s next step a perfect one. With this all this in mind, the sequel would be an easy success if it even came close to the spectacle of the first. However, the news of Chadwick Boseman’s death came to light as the project began development, leaving Marvel executives with little direction.
Now that the movie has debuted, we know the full measure of their final plan for the film, and it is nothing short of beautiful. The movie serves as just as much a tribute to the late Boseman as it does an action film. Angela Bassett and Letitia Wright portray grief in way no MCU actor has before. The channeling of their sadness toward the character in their respective roles is representative of reactions to the actor’s real death, exactly to a tee. The film’s centering on Bassett’s Queen Ramonda’s taking over the throne is a masterpiece and forces you to believe that the death of Wakanda’s king is an international reality.
Performances were, as expected, fantastic across the board. Danai Gurira’s acting abilities were apparent to everyone long before this movie, but she somehow doubles down again. The ways that she can channel true despair as her character is caught up in the chaos of Wakanda’s royalty changes and threats, comedy at points in her interactions with Letitia Wright’s Shuri, and confidence as the threatening commander of the Dora Milaj when fighting enemies makes her character consistently unforgettable.
Winston Duke’s M’Baku, while serving as a comedic role untapped in past films, felt slightly sidelined. Many imagined the character as a possible future Black Panther, but his presence was instead often lost in the chaos. One can only hope that the role continues to grow in future films.
While far behind the absence of Boseman’s T’Challa, actor Tenoch Huerta’s Namor served as one of the bigger differences between this film and its predecessor. Taking on the name of a longtime Marvel anti-hero, Huerta offers the character a complete cultural refresh. The added depth of Mayan roots and tradition to the character are underrated even in the highest praise.
The connection of cultures and desires between the underwater city of Talokan and Wakanda was unique and added an element to the villain that many saw as garnering him the role of anti-hero. The confidence and rage projected through both the character’s clothing and the actor’s acting made Wakanda’s newest threat incredibly unique from the predecessor’s Killmonger villain. The themes of colonization, tradition, and culture each meet action, suspense, and sci-fi in some of the coolest and most beautiful ways yet.
From the top MCU executives to the last fan, nobody believes the Black Panther franchise will ever be the same without Chadwick Boseman. It is impossible to replicate all that he brought to the character, and we will unfortunately never be able to experience it again. However, Marvel and Disney truly do work magic, because the rest of the Black Panther cast, along with their newest villain, give performances like they never have before, and touch on every emotion.
While it is extremely hard to move on from the Black Panther’s past, this movie showed us the potential for what’s to come, and it is nothing short of amazing. Once again, Marvel’s back.