If there is an underlying message in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, it is that the supremacy of white men in the Marvel universe is at an end - Wakanda Forever is powered almost completely by women of color, with only the villain of the piece being portrayed by a male.
Wakanda Forever, as almost everybody knows, is the follow-up to the original Black Panther from 2018, which starred Chadwick Boseman as the titular superhero and that generated box office receipts well in excess of $1 billion. It was seen as proof positive that a Black actor could carry a superhero film, and it was expected that Boseman's Black Panther - and the mythical African nation of Wakanda, which he ruled as King T'Challa - would be central to the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) going forward.
Those plans, of course, were derailed when Boseman passed away of colon cancer in 2020 at age 43, and Marvel, along with writer-director Ryan Coogler, were faced with decisions about whether to recast the role and, if not, how to move ther franchise forward.
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, is the result of those deliberations, and if it is the product of corporate strategizing it also manages to be a deeply felt meditation on loss that transcends the traditional comic book movie construct. The role has not been recast, and instead, from the opening frames until its final moments, Wakanda Forever manages to weave in an emotional story about how people (in this case, actors and the characters they play) grieve and cope.
The actors who return to the franchise - Letitia Wright, Lupita Nyong'o, Danai Gurira, Winston Duke, and especially Angela Bassett - are terrific, bring unexpected layers to their roles. Dominique Thorne is also wonderful in a new role (a brilliant college science student), and Tenoch Huerta is strong as Namor, who leads a race of blue-skinned water-breathing mutants that come into conflict with the Wakandans.
Okay, let's be clear - this is still a comic book movie. (The phrase "blue-skinned water-breathing mutants" sort of gives that away.). I do think that a a percentage of the plot and action is just silly, and the 2 hour, 45 minute run time is at least 15-20 minutes too long. And it was funny - before Wakanda Forever started, we saw a trailer for Avatar: The Way of Water, which also has a lot of blue-skinned blue people under water … maybe a statement in itself about creativity in Hollywood.
That said, we really enjoyed Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, especially the various ways in which it celebrates scientific knowledge and achievement as a superpower, and focuses on young women of color and their ability to exercise agency over their own destinies. Under the circumstances, that's not too grandiose a description for the movie's goals, I think. If you're going to make superhero movies, it might as well extol diversity as being a strength, not a weakness.
Clearly, by the way, this is something that the MCU has on its mind; in addition to Captain Marvel (Brie Larson), there are a ton of women on the bench, including She-Hulk (Tatiana Maslany) and the new Black Widow (Florence Pugh). I'm sure many of the movies and TV series in which this group is featured will be a silly as some of the projects that featured Iron-Man, Capital America, et. al. But maybe that's when real diversity is achieved, when women and people of color have the ability to star in silly stuff just as much as white men.
I have two terrific red wines to recommend to you this week.
First, the 2019 Ashlynn Pinot Noir from Oregon's Willamette Valley (that's what I am drinking in FaceTime, above). It is balanced and smooth and everything that one expects from an terrific pinot noir - a perfect sipping wine as the weather gets colder and the fireplace gets warmed up.
Second, there's a wonderful Syrah from France - the 2020 Maison Les Alexandrins Le Cabanon Rouge, which is 95 percent syrah and five percent viognier, and has a nice smoothness and spiciness that stands up to a heart meal.
That's it for this week.
Have a great weekend, and I'll see you Monday … as Year 22 of MorningNewsBeat begins.