Maybe Not All Marvel Movies Should End With A Big Fight
At some point I have to admit it’s me, hi. I’m the problem, it's me. I keep going to Marvel movies and getting annoyed when they turn into Marvel movies. It’s like showing up at McDonald’s and complaining that they’re serving cheeseburgers again. The thing is, I like Marvel movies. Pandemic aside, I’ve seen every Marvel movie in the cinema in the week it opened since Iron Man 2. I cried at Endgame. I have a Black Widow Funko Pop. I’m all in, baby. But over time, the formula has become so transparent, the risks so minor, the storytelling so bland, that I find myself enjoying moments that go against the grain, and becoming irritated when it Marvels all over the place. No movie is more emblematic of this issue than Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. Spoilers ahead for Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.
When I sat down with my popcorn a few months ago for Thor: Love & Thunder, I knew what I was in for. It was going to get some laughs, some flashy action sequences, and go home. Christian Bale would be good but underused, Natalie Portman wouldn’t be stretched much, and Chris Hemsworth would be charismatic and good for a chuckle while being outshone by the two aforementioned supporting stars. In the end, I didn’t like Love & Thunder much, but I never felt short-changed by the Marvel machine. It was exactly the sort of movie it was always going to be, it was just a pretty poor version of it. But Wakanda Forever feels like it promises you one movie, then wedges in another.
Wakanda Forever was always going to be one of Marvel’s most soulful movies to date. It had to deal with the real-life passing of Chadwick Boseman, and saw the return of Ryan Coogler, who made the first Black Panther movie such a spectacle. Black Panther remains the only Marvel movie to be nominated for Best Picture, and that’s down to its layered presentation of complex themes, its elevated cinematography, and its human storytelling. However, it lets itself down with its cheesy final battle, even if it concludes with yet another strike to the heart of the movie’s themes as Killmonger feels a connection to the slaves who jumped from the slave ships because, “they knew death was better than bondage.”
Wakanda Forever repeats Black Panther’s triumphs, and its mistakes. Shuri is the beating heart of the movie, with the story revolving around her pain and her loss. Namor, the movie’s antagonist, is as relatable and justified as Killmonger, only labelled a villain because he is quick to violence and challenges the status quo. The film’s scope is even larger than the first, but it resists glitzy VFX fests in favour of sweeping drone shots of the rolling plains and gorgeous cityscapes. Both Wakanda and Talokan are CGI to some extent, of course, but Coogler takes us close in on tangible, physical details that interact with characters instead of shiny baubles or references crammed in as fan service.
T’Challa’s funeral is aching and raw, and the movie’s closing scene, Shuri silent on the beach as the flames burn her funeral garments, is beautifully subdued in ways Marvel movies never are. Rihanna’s Lift Me Up is the perfect accompaniment to the credits, and even in a year with Lady Gaga and Taylor Swift on soundtrack duty, RiRi is surely front runner for Best Original Song this year.
And hey, it’s a Marvel movie! For a lot of the film, it does that right too! Whether it be Aneka defending the Wakanda outpost in Mali with her blue laser knives, Shuri and Okoye’s high speed car chase, or Namor’s attack on Wakanda itself with M’Baku’s armour being shattered, the action scenes in Wakanda Forever were perfect for a Marvel movie. Unfortunately, all of this led us to the most predictable and disappointing final battle.
Shuri, as we all knew, becomes the Black Panther, and takes on Namor in a one on one battle. She survives being impaled through the stomach and then defeats Namor by causing her ship to explode next to him. Her plan, to weaken Namor with an evaporation chamber, worked perfectly, until he broke the ship and she just stood there and watched, leading to a fight where he clearly bests her then loses by letting his guard down around an explosion. She then demands he yields rather than killing him, which kind of ties in to Shuri’s arc of moving on from vengeance, and does a good job of setting up Namor’s continued role in the MCU, but it all feels a little messy and convenient.
Meanwhile, there’s a major battle between the Wakandans and the Talokans in the middle of the ocean. While the Wakandans do prepare with an (easily disarmed) sonic attack, and a (very cool, but not all that effective) vertical rope attack on the body of the ship, it seems a little foolish to actively engage the water people in the middle of the water. The Midnight Angel suit gets a run out, We see Riri Williams’ new and improved Ironheart, all the key characters get an important moment without ever being at risk of death, and again, that’s all a bit of a mess.
The whole script is so tightly constructed, personal, and soulful, then ends as all Marvel movies do with one big schlocky battle and a more intimate one on one. Neither are particularly compelling or important, then it ends with an alliance, as it always could have. At 162 minutes, Wakanda Forever is a beefy movie already, and with a final battle that only simmers, it feels as if, even with one of its most human stories yet, Marvel movies can never escape the Marvel machine.
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