Quick synopsis: A bluefish with achilles wings tries to protect his homeland, by invading another.
This was always going to be a curious watch. How exactly would they deal with the death of Chadwick Boseman? It was going to need to be handled delicately, not just because of what happened, but who it happened to. Boseman was regarded as one of the nicest people in Hollywood, and the circumstances of his death, where he went to children’s hospitals to meet fans even whilst he himself was dying, which could not have been easy for him. Often the goal with watching a film is to forget the external influences and review it on its own merits. It’s why I didn’t watch Don’t Worry Darling, because the on-set conflicts overshadowed everything about it and it would be difficult to watch it and not analyze everything for hints of the backstage drama. It’s like how you can’t read old lostprophets interviews without looking at every sentence for clues of the singers misdeeds (polite way to put something horrific). But this is different, you CAN’T go into this blind, you know the circumstances of Boseman, and it’s too big for the film to ignore.
They don’t ignore it, they have the character die of an unspecified illness off-screen. I’m glad they did that, if they just had him disappear there would be the worry he’d be recast in the future, and if he got killed by the villain it would seem a bit cheap. His death hangs over the film and defines the characters, you feel that this, more than any other film in the MCU, was one that was needed. It was needed as a tribute, and it was needed for the cast (and to a lesser extent, the audience) to help them grieve and get through it. None of this would matter if the film itself wasn’t good though. Phase Four has been divisive, some of that has just been due to people complaining that it’s not the Infinity Saga again, and some of it has been because “too many women”, but when the phase has also included its weakest film to date (Eternals), and a general lack of focus, it’s hard to get the same level of excitement as you used to get. Especially since lately they’ve eschewed plot and instead gone with “surprise cameos”. This doesn’t really have many surprises, it focuses on good storytelling. This is probably the most mature Marvel has been in a long time. I hate that saying “mature comic book movie” because it usually means (ironically) that it’s just full of blood and swearing, in a way that only really appeals to 15 year olds. This is actually mature. It deals with themes of loss and legacy. It’s genuinely heartbreaking at times and is well done.
The script is helped by the performances, Tenoch Huerta Mejia probably needed more to do but he does brilliantly and I’d like to see him return in the future as there’s a lot that could be done with his character. Letitia Wright looks a natural to lead the franchise going forward (if she stops making enemies on set). But the best performance was Angela Bassett, who gives a tremendous performance, thre’s one scene in particular where we see all her characters pent up rage and emotion, it’s the kind of scene which makes you wonder if she could get an Academy Award if given the right script. It’s weird that in an action movie the best scene is one which is just dialogue, but it has so much power that it’s hard to deny that’s the case. Although I’d be lying if I didn’t say a part of that is how pedestrian some of the action scenes are. There’s a running theme in Phase Four of overly busy final fight scenes. Shang-Chi is the best example of something that should have ended with a small one on one fight scene full of emotion, but instead they went with a multi-person CGI one. They do the same here. If this ended with a hand to hand fight between Namor and Shuri it would allow it to not just be a fight, but be a scene with emotion and character work. But it keeps cutting from that fight to another scene where blue creatures fight people dressed in blue in the middle of the ocean against a bright blue sky. This makes it hard to maintain momentum. Plus, personally I hate when films cut away from fight scenes then cut back a few minutes later; either the audience missed some of the fight, time stood still and the two timelines now aren’t concurrent, or they just stood around doing nothing. A fight between two hardened warriors should have an air of “any mistake will be punished” and like it could all be over in an instant. But when you cut between two seperate fights, film-making rules determine that usually those two fights end at the same time (or follow the same momentum), so you can tell the one on one isn’t going to end early when the multi-person scene is only just starting. There also multiple “that should have killed them” moments, there’s one in particular that stands out as being especially egregious.
A big downside for this is that it, even more than most Marvel films, will lose A LOT if you haven’t seen the previous entry in the series. Say what you want about Black Adam, but it works as a stand-alone film (I know people for whom that’s the only superhero film they’ve seen this year, and it made sense to them). The same cannot be said about this, it’s so dependent on you knowing who people are, and who they are to each other too. The continuity lock-out is strong, and that’s a shame as this deserves to be seen by people who wouldn’t watch this genre normally. It would do well with them, IF it wasn’t for the lockout.
So in summary, the best possible way for them to end this phase, and they achieved it by aiming small. It’s not about the end of the universe, or the world imploding, it’s smaller, and because of that, it’s much better.