One of the climactic moments in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is Namor’s attack on Wakanda and the resulting demise of Queen Ramonda. It’s one of the most emotional scenes in what’s already a very emotional film. But it’s actually been the thing that’s bothering me the most. I can’t stop thinking about Ramonda drowning. Because it makes absolutely no sense how that much water got beneath the Wakandan throne room.
I know, I know. “Chris, Namor threw water grenades.” Yes, he did. But the thing about those water grenades is they don’t hold an Olympic swimming pool’s worth of water. When the water’s in the throne room, before the glass breaks, it’s not even a foot deep. The queen is face down in a puddle. Not engulfed. But somehow the room beneath is big enough that the water is deep enough for someone to drown, but small enough that the water doesn’t spread the same way it did in the throne room.
This is very pedantic, I know. It’s a superhero film where the expectation is audiences should suspend disbelief and turn their brains off. But that’s insulting. The thing I love about the best MCU and superhero films is they don’t require our brains to turn off. They’re smart enough to make logical choices within a world that’s bombastic and wild. When I’m watching Infinity War and Endgame, I’m completely bought in. When I’m watching Captain America: Winter Soldier, I’m bought in. When I’m watching The Batman, I’m bought in. The “suspension of disbelief” wasn’t me having to ignore basic logic. It was me accepting Infinity Stones exist or that Captain America can fight all day or that Batman has the technology he has.
The idea of suspension of disbelief shouldn’t be an excuse to get away with bad writing and poor logic. And, unfortunately, the weight of Ramonda’s death is compromised by how absolutely silly it is.
Look at these photos.
Photo 1 shows the explosion of water. Photo 2 is immediately after the glass floor breaks. 99% of the water is still in the throne room. And it’s barely enough to submerge Ramonda’s hand. Photo 3 shows the scope of the throne room as the water rushes to the floor below. It’s a big room but the total amount of water is barely anything. Yet photos 4 and 5 show the area beneath the throne room. Somehow a total amount of water that barely covered the ground of the throne room fills up the entirety of this secondary room that’s just as big, if not bigger, than the throne room.
Keep in mind, too, the throne room is really high up. It’s not ground level where the flooding from the Talokan offensive would bring water into the building. It’s 10+ stories. Upper skyscraper.
All I’m asking is for Marvel movies to not be stupid. Be outrageous. Be fun. Just don’t insult viewers by making choices that ask them to ignore lazy writing. Which is something I feel like is happening more and more ever since Eternals came out. Granted, it’s not like the MCU has been perfect. Iron Man 2 exists. Thor: Dark World exists. Age of Ultron exists. But from 2014 to 2019, the MCU was on a pretty hot streak. The good, I think, far outweighed the bad. Yet the balance has continued to swing the other way. With Multiverse of Madness being absurd. Love and Thunder phoning it in. And now Wakanda Forever spoiling truly emotional moments with lackluster choices.
It’s a shame, because it’s such a heroic and impressive effort to even make an MCU film. The fans want to love them. I want to love them. A great superhero movie is such a special thing. I’m just afraid of what’s to come. Phase 4 has been a giant step backwards in quality. And that’s not to say the “bad” movies don’t have high points. They do. Namor was awesome. Nakia was awesome. Ramonda was awesome. Riri was awesome. Shuri’s journey from guilty sibling to empowered protector was emotional. But there are so many distractions and poor writing from start to finish that it’s unfair to the crew and cast and audience. We know the MCU can be better than this. So why isn’t it?
Someone working on Wakanda Forever, should be able to watch the Ramonda scene and say “Hey, that’s not enough water for what happens next to make sense.” And that should be taken seriously and addressed. But I can absolutely hear the response that would follow if someone raised the challenge. “No one will care about that. We show a lot of water. It’s a superhero film. People get the idea. It’ll be fine.”
It reminds me of the “broken window” theory. The theory is based on the idea that if people see a building with broken windows, it gives the presumption that crime in that area is okay. The more broken windows and other evidence of a lack of care or supervision, the more likely crime will occur. With the idea being that if you clean up such things then the impression of the area improves and the crime rate falls. It’s a controversial theory less so for the general psychology of it but because the law enforcement practices that followed were zero tolerance and ignorant and led to a lot of other issues.
Think of a classroom where everything is organized and ordered and students are at their desks and studying. If you walk into that room, you’re probably going to take a seat and focus on your schoolwork. Now if another classroom is disorganized, and students are sitting wherever they want, and are doing whatever they want, then it’s unlikely you’ll sit at a desk and focus on your schoolwork. This dovetails into the psychology of making your bed in the morning. If you don’t make your bed when you wake up, you’re likely to put off other things in your life. Whether that’s cleaning out the fridge or getting to your taxes or getting to a movie on time. The unmade bed tells your brain that it’s okay to leave other things “unmade”. Where if you make your bed, it sparks a degree of discipline that carries over to other areas. Maybe you put the dishes away faster. Maybe you take the garbage out sooner. Maybe you’re on time to meet your friend rather than 15 minutes late.
The same idea applies to narrative. Especially in a cinematic universe. The more one MCU film cuts narrative corners and hopes audiences won’t notice, the more likely other films will do the same. Until it becomes standard operating procedure to take the easy way out of narrative complications. Instead of finding a better way to write the scene, you do a sleight of hand and hope the audience just doesn’t think about it too much. That’s been the one consistent thing about the Phase 4 MCU Disney+ shows. The writing is strikingly amateur. They’re textbook examples of “Just don’t think about it.” When the MCU had been, at least between 2013 and 2019, much better than that.
And I wouldn’t be writing all of this if the throne room scene was my only gripe in Wakanda Forever. It’s not. It’s just that if I started writing about all of them, we’d be here forever. Like the amount of spears laying around the beach during Shuri’s last fight with Namor. Or Namor’s entire approach to politics. “I can’t have the surface world discovering Talokan! So I’m going to do a bunch of stuff that almost guarantees the surface world discovers Talokan and thinks we’re evil!” Where the vibranium was in the ocean compared to Talokan’s location. The Midnight Angels getting to do barely anything after all that buildup. The lack of reaction to how many Wakandan fighters were lost in the final battle. The terrible plan of relying on a single boat when fighting an enemy who is almost entirely restricted to water. T’Challa not telling Shuri about his son but telling his mom?
There’s a famous ideology called The Toyota Way. I know that Toyota cars aren’t thought of as the highest quality vehicle. But they’re one of the most successful companies in the world and have succeeded in the affordable car market due to their methodology. There are 14 principles, but the most relevant to this conversation is the idea of “create a continuous process flow to bring problems to the surface.” The idea of continuous improvement, known as kaizen, means Toyota empowers all of its employees to speak up about how to eliminate issues and ensure quality. That means a janitor can speak up about something they see on the factory floor and it’s taken seriously and addressed. A hundred small improvements can be transformational.
To me, the MCU is reaching a point of neglecting the details. Of focusing too much on the larger picture at the expense of continuous improvement. An increasing amount of narrative broken windows has me worried about the future. We saw it with Game of Thrones. The show runners, David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, gave up on the show. They wanted to reach the finish line and you can see the season-by-season drop in quality, especially after season 5. By the time the eighth and final season came out, there was a collective horror from audiences across the world. Even the actors. The flaws that could be overlooked in season 6, or were arguable in season 7, were monstrous in season 8. To the point where a lot of people were skeptical that the prequel series House of the Dragon would be any good whatsoever. That’s how poisoned the brand had become. But under the guidance of a team who cared, House of the Dragon re-established a high bar of quality.
I’m hoping the MCU gets back on track before it has its own version of Game of Thrones season 8.