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By Dave Campbell- Let there be no doubt: Marvel Studios is back to top-tier form with opening weekend audiences breaking records for “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever,” handing over a new November box office crown.
Projected totals for the first weekend haul rocketed up to $180 million and an astounding $330 million worldwide.
The film took the second highest opening of 2022 behind Marvel’s other 2022 epic, “Dr. Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.”
“Spider-Man: No Way Home” released last December is still the highest post COVID-19, in-theater opening, leading Deadline magazine to declare Marvel’s total tally accounting for 21% of all domestic gross cinema profits in the “post-COVID” era box office.
But big dollars don’t equal quality. And yet, ‘Wakanda’ delivered both with unprecedented scale and depth.
It’s likely a major exhale for Marvel Studios, in some aspects, as many of the company’s latest projects from Disney Plus shows to the big screen releases have garnered mediocre to downright hate-riddled reviews online (See She Hulk and Thor: Love and Thunder).
I still enjoyed both of those as they were truly accurate to their source comics in many ways, but fans have been screaming for a return to the serious tones of the MCU and with this, they get that and more.
Ok, so then let’s consider the casual, non-comic reading viewer, who for some stretches of this journey will not be as sold on characters they haven’t grown to know yet, like Robert Downey Jr.’s “Iron Man,” by the end of the Infinity Saga.
And we see lately, comments and YouTube channel influencers have religiously taken to a practice of Marvel hating.
It is also clear that people trying to bring politically driven comments in to bear on the quality of these films have forgotten how to sit down and just enjoy something without over analysing.
Point is, while some of the Marvel movies and shows have been less than clear in their connection to an overarching story arc, they know where they’re heading, and I’d say given their achievement thus far, it’s more helpful to know it’s going to all pull together again toward another epic finale.
“Wakanda” has little to criticize and will fare quite well, I believe in the lineup of Marvel’s greatest hits.
All of this, despite the very noticeable absence of lead actor, Chadwick Boseman, who riveted fans with his portrayal of King T’Challa, the Black Panther protector of Wakanda, in his few Marvel movie appearances.
A little more than two years ago, Boseman unexpectedly died to a hidden battle with cancer that he even kept from his other fellow actors.
The first Black Panther film would end up winning three Oscars out of seven for music, set and costumes, being the first superhero film to receive Best Picture consideration.
The sequel actually boosts the original film up a notch, as the story’s emotional depth becomes more complex by T’Challa’s passing, and is led by stellar acting performances, especially from Angela Bassett’s portrayal of the Wakandan Queen.
Hello … Oscars, anyone?
Currently, Bassett is nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Performance by an Actress in a supporting role in any motion picture.
But either way, kudos to the family and cast to allow the memory of Boseman to find its way into this project.
Tenoch Huerta’s first introduction to a flagship character from the Marvel Comics was no less than satisfying and often way above average.
Some might take issue with the backstory of Namor and the Atlanteans being changed up a little, yet I have absolutely no problem with it since the tone of the story remains.
Upon first confrontation of the Wakanda’s oft-impenetrable female special forces guard, the Dora Milaje, Namor and the Atlanteans prove that they will be a formidable force and not easily shaken.
Namor is ever the opportunistic double agent that you get in the comics all the way back to 1939.
His tribe grew from a Mayan civilization of ancient times, who, like the first Black Panther also derived its powers from the spectacular benefits of a land brimming with the rare resource of Vibranium that outside nations are trying to seize.
The struggle for resources between neighboring nations is something that fits with many of the narratives of today.
The MCU introduced Namor here as yet one more mutant in the Marvel pantheon, as they slowly creep toward Marvel diving into the use of all their X-Men character licenses they bought from the former 20th Century Fox a few years ago.
And I must say, I’d like a pair of ankle wings that fly me around, like Namor.
While we have a lot of comic accurate familiarities, we can’t have movies that just play out beat for beat as they did in the comics. They would quickly grow boring and that is part of Marvel’s magic formula of storytelling, changing things up, yet linking them all together.
Marvel’s head boss, Kevin Feige will no doubt be remembered as one the greatest producers of cinematic history.
To take threads from constantly shifting story arcs and somehow weave them into one overarching narrative without watering down or tangling up any elements of the story, that takes expertise.
This is what makes Marvel special, when I get to watch a totally new character hearkening back to that very first MCU film in 2008 with one single, simple gesture. And then the wonderful, amazing, rousing, battle anthem, blood pumping music.
But to get a better idea, you’ll have to go see what I’m talking about. “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” is in theaters now.
Dave Campbell is a Columbia native, journalist and freelance writer for The Daily Herald. (Yahoo! News)