How do you make a super-hero movie when the actor who played the title character passed away?
The obvious answer would be to re-cast the lead, but that’s not what director/co-screenwriter Ryan Cooglar opted to do with his latest film, “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.”
He and a fabulous female-led cast embraced the tragedy of Chadwick Bosman’s 2020 death from colon cancer and used that emotion to craft one of the most heart-felt and action-packed movies in the ever-growing Marvel franchise. Bosman, of course, portrayed T’Challa the Black Panther in several Marvel films including the solo Black Panther film in 2018, which gained a Best-Picture Oscar nomination.
Cooglar and co-screenwriter Joe Robert Cole’s script deftly weaves a story of loss and redemption as T’Challa’s family, friends, and nation work to deal with the sudden, off-camera death of its King, Wakanda’s first tentative steps onto the world stage, and the emerging threat of the underwater civilization Talocan and its arrogant yet powerful mutant leader Namor.
The movie is crafted where Letitia Wright as Shuri, T’Challa’s super-smart sister; Angela Bassett as Ramonda, Queen of Wakanda; and Tenoch Huerta Mejia as Namor are the tri-leads.
All three offer exceptional performances with Bassett being the standout, whom very well could garner an Oscar nomination in a supporting role. She is noble and powerful as a queen who has lost the bulk of her family.
Wright has perhaps the most nuanced performance in the film as she struggles to deal with the pain of losing her brother and stepping into a role of power that she never asked for.
Mejia’s part as Namor might be a bit undercooked in comparison to Bassett and Wright’s roles, but he squeezes all the juice from it as a charismatic yet cunning and calculating adversary who can not only fly but also breath above and below the sea, and give the Hulk a contest in the strength department. Namor, who has two wings on each of his feet, is a visually arresting character. His flight scenes are spectacular. He whisks through the air wreaking destruction like an Apocalyptic speed skater.
Known as the Sub-Mariner in the comics, Namor equaled the original Human Torch as the first Marvel super-hero characters, making their debut in Marvel Mystery Comics No. 1, way back in 1939. Comics creators Stan Lee and Jack Kirby revived the character in Fantastic Four No. 4 in 1961 as a sometimes adversary and other times hero. You never quite know what you’re going to get with Namor.
Namor kidnaps Shuri and takes her to his undersea kingdom in hopes of making a deal with her where their nations could work together, but when he arrogantly threatens to destroy Wakanda if Shuri turns down his offer, all bets are off. Shuri escapes but Namor is as good as his word. He leads an attack on Wakanda and the war is on.
Lupita Nyong’o’s Nakia, Danai Gurira’s Okoye, and Winston Duke’s as M’Baku are back in supporting roles, and Dominique Thorne is introduced as Riri Williams/Ironheart, who will be featured in an upcoming Disney + limited series.
Cooglar coaxes layered performances from each of them except perhaps Thorne, whose introduction was fun, but could have easily been trimmed from the movie that runs 2 hours and 21 minutes. Even with that unneeded storyline, the movie is paced well. It didn’t feel like a movie that overstayed its welcome. The film is somber in crucial moments and breath-taking in others.
The battles between the warring nations are riveting, and the final showdown between Namor and a seemingly out-powered Shuri are first-class, comic-book fun on a grand scale.
For me, this is Marvel’s best film since “Avengers: End Game,” rating a smidge higher than last December’s “Spider-Man: No Way Home.”
That view is subjective, of course, but the movie has an emotional heft, the stakes are less convoluted, and Namor is one of the better-realized Marvel antagonists on the big screen.
(PG-13) 2 hr. 21 min.
Classic Corner – To Kill a Mockingbird
I’m not sure there’s a more perfectly constructed young-adult novel than Harper Lee’s 1960 Pulitzer Prize-winning “To Kill a Mockingbird,” and I certainly can’t think of a better film adaption of a novel than director Robert Mulligan’s 1962 film, starring Gregory Peck in his Academy Award-winning role as small-town, Southern lawyer and father Atticus Finch.
The Malco Razorback theater is holding two special showings of the film at 1 p.m. Sunday and 7 p.m. Wednesday.
The film might not hit hard enough for modern audiences. If it were released today, it would certainly be criticized for detailing the struggles of Black men falsely accused of rape in Southern culture of the 1930s through the point of view of a white child.
In hindsight, such criticisms might be apt, but the film remains a touching portrait of a father who seeks to do right because it is the right thing to do despite how easy it would be to go with the flow or just look the other way.
The story is told through the eyes of Finch’s daughter, Scout (Mary Badham), her brother Jem (Phillip Baker), and friend Dill (John Megna).
For adults the movie is a reminder that times were never as simple as we daydream them to be, and for young viewers, the film is a fine example that realistic heroes don’t wear capes, masks, or armor.