Black Panther: Wakanda forever arrives with a Hulk-shattering weight on his shoulders. Ryan Coogler’s just-released sequel to the original Black Pantherfrom 2018, faces the daunting two-for-one challenge of providing Marvel audiences with the visceral tension they crave while honoring the legacy of the late Chadwick Boseman.
Boseman died of cancer in August 2020 – less than eight months before he was due to reprise the role of the heroic T’Challa in the sequel. Hastily rewritten by Coogler, the film now walks a tricky tightrope. It must simultaneously pay homage to Boseman and open a new chapter for Wakanda, the fictional superhero kingdom in East Africa.
But putting the tragic loss of Boseman aside, Wakanda forever is important for another reason. The Marvel Cinematic Universe is one of the great achievements of modern filmmaking, weaving multiple characters and stories into 30 features and counting. But in one respect it has always fallen short. When it comes to direct sequels, it’s more villain than hero.
Marvel’s sequel issue spans the entire MCU: von the Dire iron man 2 in 2010 to the appalling Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness – aka Doctor Strange 2 – earlier this year. Time and time again, when Marvel follows up a hit with another film starring the same protagonist, the results invariably lag behind. How can a series that gets so many things right always fail because of the same thing? And what does that tell us about the strengths and weaknesses of MCU boss Kevin Feige’s vision for the franchise?
To start, it should be recognized that there is one exception to this golden rule of Marvel and its creaky sequels: 2014 Captain America: The Winter Soldier. This suspense-packed thriller inserted Chris Evans’ Stars ‘n’ Stripes-veiled dork into a complex political conspiracy. It also marked the entry into Marvel of writer-director brothers Anthony and Joe Russo (who would go on to make the top two MCU flicks, Avengers: Infinity War and endgame). Most importantly, it showed that with the right script and approach, Marvel sequels can skyrocket. Why does it stand out as such an anomaly today?
winter soldier That being said, every Marvel sequel has failed in its own way. With iron man 2, everyone agrees that returning director Jon Favreau made the classic mistake of cramming in too many villains. He did this by pitting Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man against both Mickey Rourke’s renegade physicist Ivan Vanko, aka Whiplash, and Sam Rockwell’s camp gun dealer Justin Hammer.
But according to Rourke, the problems ran deeper. “At the end of the day, you have a nerd with a pocket full of money running it,” he complained to CraveOnline. “Favreau is not in charge. I wish he had… Marvel just wanted a one-dimensional villain, well, most [my] Performance landed on the floor.”
The Worst Marvel Sequel title stayed the same iron man 2 for only three years. In 2013, Feige and Co outdid themselves with the sterile Thor: The Dark World. The problem this time was that the studio was trying too hard to latch on to prevailing trends – which included conquering 2013’s dominance game of Thrones. Feige and Co. went so far as to hire Alan Taylor as a director for the fantasy bonkbuster.
What Taylor didn’t know was that he had signed on to an already difficult project. Unhappy with script, Patty Jenkins – later directed wonder woman – had already left. Her fear, she had said, was that if the film were a disaster, she would take the blame – and that the ill effects of becoming the first woman to direct an MCU film would extend beyond her career. Instead, it would also be used… well, a Thor’s hammer against all female directors.
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“You can’t make movies you don’t believe in,” she said vanity fair in 2020. “The only reason to do that would be to show people I can do it. But it wouldn’t have proved anything if I hadn’t succeeded. I don’t think I would have gotten another chance.”
gate 2 also suffered from an attempt to establish a darker tone than its predecessor, while still retaining the lighter elements of the franchise that fans loved. The Dark World had originally ended with the death of Thor’s evil step-sibling Loki. However, when test audiences refused to believe that Tom Hiddleston’s trickster god was broken (they assumed it was a sleight of hand), Marvel shifted into gear. Loki would eventually live.
“The version I started with had more childish wonder; There was this imagery of kids that started it all,” Taylor described of his “Taylor Cut” to the Hollywood reporter. “There was a slightly more magical quality… There were major plot differences that were reversed in the editing room and with additional photography – people [such as Loki] Whoever died wasn’t dead, people who broke up were back together. I think I’d like my version.”
With the MCU sequels, one often gets the feeling that Marvel is surprised by its own success. The original Thor – a film about a camp Viking with a magic hammer – shouldn’t have worked. Director Kenneth Branagh has transformed a pulp property into something living, breathing and deeply charming. It was like lightning caught in a bottle. The second time around, Marvel didn’t know how to conjure up this unlikely magic again. Ultimately, Thor got it back on track by collaborating with the one and only Taika Waititi, who brought his distinctively wacky humor to the brand Thor: Ragnorak. But it works The Dark World as the unloved outlier of the Thor movies.
“I really admire the skills of someone who can take a very personal vision – like Taika Waititi – and combine it with the big business needs,” said Taylor. “I think my skills could be different.”
Sequelitis also infested Avengers: Age of Ultron. The original 2012 avenger had thrived despite the popular belief that a superhero team was bound to be a bloated mess. However, when the studio returned with age of ultron In 2015, Avengers director Joss Whedon found it impossible to repeat his original film’s three-card trick.
One problem was that in his eagerness to instill moments of humanity in his heroes, he invented an unconvincing romance between Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow and Bruce Banner, aka Hulk (a hangdog Mark Ruffalo). He was also under pressure to introduce story elements that would set up future Marvel excursions — like tensions between Captain America and Tony Stark, which would spill over into 2016 Captain American: Civil War.
But most of all, and like the second Thor and Iron Man, you felt like Whedon, having already moved mountains, lacked the emotional energy to do it again.
“I was so devastated by the process,” he told a public audience at the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival. “Some of it was at odds with Marvel, which is inevitable. A lot of it was about my own work, and I was… exhausted.”
He was later criticized for making Black Widow a glorified emotional appendage to the Hulk (throughout age of ultron she is either hypersexualized or portrayed as kind and mothering). This criticism was part of a subsequent re-examination of Whedon’s work, supported by allegations of unprofessional behavior by both pre-Marvel (such as Buffy Star Charisma Carpenter) and Post (virtually every cast member in his doomed 2017 DC film justice league). Whedon is long gone from Marvel history. However, the problems that follow remain.
This year Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness was a CGI horror show that lacked the mystical brio of its predecessor and relied too heavily on wacky effects. Wakanda forever, meanwhile, has a cobbled-together sensibility, albeit an understandable one in the wake of Boseman’s death. Reviews for the film were mixed. The Independent has lauded it as sensitive and touching, with critic Clarisse Loughrey writing that it feels “under a great shadow of loss”, with “every frame shrouded in tender sorrow”. Others, however, were less positive. “Dull and pale,” he wrote vulture. “Hopelessly stalled…repetitive, overly familiar…occasionally incoherent,” he agreed Washington Post.
When the focus is on beloved characters like T’challa’s little sister Shuri (Letitia Wright) and his mother Ramona (Angela Bassett), Wakanda forever works wonderfully. Unfortunately, the aquatic antagonist Namor (Tenoch Huerta) is undercooked and not villainous enough. The almost three-hour running time also seems amazing and rushed at the same time. Wakanda forever does one thing right by opening with a moving funeral scene that pays tribute to both T’challa and the actor who played him.
But as a floppy follow-up to a great movie, the film reminds us that – to mix our comic book metaphors – sequels remain Marvel’s ultimate kryptonite.
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is in theaters now
https://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/films/features/black-panther-2-wakanda-forever-marvel-b2225726.html Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is further proof that Marvel can’t make sequels