When I watched Black Panther, I remember thinking, “This is not just any superhero film. It has heart.” Actually, here is my orginal review of the film, that I wrote when I was 17. I remember crying in the theatre, feeling hopeful and moved. As a visual communication design student, the visuals had blown me away. Despite being fully aware of what Marvel does, I went into Wakanda Forever with a sliver of hope, but I was thoroughly disappointed. Wakanda Forever seemed confused about what it wanted to be, much like its protagonist. Indicative of Marvel’s template turning into an iron-cast mold, Coogler’s treatment almost felt suffocated.

A close up of Shuri’s face during T’Challa’s funeral

BP had clear storylines, and although they intersected, each one got its share of screen time, care, and space to unfold. Two great examples of the tenderness and gravity with which the script holds its characters are the trips to the ancestral plane that T’Challa and Killmonger make.

Erik Killmonger as a child

In Killmonger’s trip to the ancestral plane, he’s still confused about why Wakandans won’t accept him. When his father asks him, “No tears for me?”. He shrugs and says," Everybody dies." In the next frame, we see the grown-up Killmonger with tears streaming down his face. It’s compelling imagery of internal grief and vulnerability.

T’Challa walking towards a tree in the ancestral plane

T’Challa’s second trip to the ancestral plane radically differs from his first. Where once T’Challa sought his father’s advice, he now seeks answers. He is forced to come to terms with the fact that there may no longer be precedents. He will have to carve out his own path. Both these scenes lingered, their tension palpable whenever the two sons met, each trying to come to terms with their legacies.

On the other hand, WF seemed to lose sight of its ambition, with a script desperately trying to collect itself. The cohesiveness that I associate with a Coogler film was simply not there. Shuri’s arc felt like an unpunctuated sentence. A few dialogues spelt out her internal conflicts (her perceived failure at saving her brother, her distaste for rituals and tradition, anger and grief). But there weren’t enough pit stops in the film for her to collect herself. For example, her trip to the ancestral plane was quite different from Killmonger’s and T’Challa’s, but it still didn’t stick with me. Yes, she saw Killmonger instead of her family, but how did that change her? Why did she see him? I don’t want a spoken explanation; I want to see her character struggle with it.

Shuri standing in a crown room in fire in her visit to the ancestral plane

Also, I can roll with a bunch of adults crossing their arms and saying, “Wakanda Forever”, but the conch shell was a bit too much. It felt like Goku’s Kamehameha. And while we did get the honorarium flashbacks explaining why Namor is as angry as he is, his narrative felt Marvel-ified. He always existed in the film in reference to Shuri. He always existed as the bad guy that we are supposed to feel bad for. But he didn’t get his shot at being his own person. What was he like when he was alone? When he made difficult decisions? When he mourned? He seemed like an accessory to Shuri’s arc, unlike Killmonger.

Namor in the sky with his spear.

The awkward pacing of the film was worsened by the disappointing soundtrack. There was a lot of scope for cross-genre experimentation, given the introduction of a literal culture and civilisation. But the few variations sounded like a boring American pop song featuring some token Latinx artists.

But what ticked me off about the film was that regardless of its intentions, it still made money from Boseman’s untimely passing. I am not angry at the movie or the crew for this, but at the system in general. It feels revolting how the engines of profit will attempt to greedily poison everything they can. It hit too close to home for me. As an artist, I strongly feel that art gets dehumanised when commodified. From a medium of expression, it becomes an object of exchange value that carries a transactional burden. I find it difficult to post my art online because I hate the idea of being consumed, thus I hated the way an expression of the crew’s loss was consumed.

But I digress. The more time I spent in Wakanda, the more evident it became that it no longer existed outside the forces of the MCU. Like Sam Raimi’s valiant effort to save Dr Strange, Ryan Coogler’s effort came through bits and pieces, like in the last scene when Shuri meets her nephew. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough.