Spoiler-free review of Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. Theatrical release on November 11.
In a cinematic universe where half of all living things have already died and come back to life, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever reminds us that the loss of one person can be just as devastating. T’Challa’s (and actor Chadwick Boseman’s) death weighs heavily on Wakanda Forever, with the fictional nation scrambling to replace both its monarch and champion, and Marvel Studios deciding how to honor a man it was clearly down for. to work for years and years. Wakanda Forever is an effective and emotional farewell to T’Challa (a meditation on forging one’s future out of a painful past), but with a plot that has to introduce an entirely new nation and pave the way for a new wave of Marvel stories, struggles under the weight of all that expectation.
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever wastes no time addressing Boseman’s passing, with a chaotic and tense opening scene that leaves Shuri (Letitia Wright) feeling responsible for her brother’s death. The funeral procession that follows speaks to the unbelievably fine line Wakanda Forever has to walk: even in its mourning, there is joyful dancing and celebration of what T’Challa brought to the nation, but Shuri’s solemnity as she walks forward holding the T’Challa’s helmet is a strong reminder of the conflicting emotions that she and the film in general have to balance.
Wright has mostly been used as comic relief up to this point, and Shuri’s character arc needs to refocus that energy on how she processes her pain. Everyone in Shuri’s life urges her to let T’Challa go, and her tendency to lash out in those instances goes a long way in helping Wakanda Forever sustain itself during her frequent flights of fancy. It’s a sharp turn, but Wright’s emotional availability and intensity carries Shuri through that tense grieving process. Director Ryan Coogler builds up Shuri’s fall into despair. until you reach one of the most surprising scenes in Wakanda Forever– An unbearably tense moment of self-reflection that serves as a reminder that a well-played exchange between two characters can be just as impressive as a grand battle for the fate of two nations.
The power vacuum left by T’Challa’s death soon prompts a challenge to Wakanda from the outside world. Since Killmonger has destroyed the heart-shaped herb that gave T’Challa superhuman abilities, there is no new Black Panther to root for, and although T’Challa’s outreach program from the end of the first film is still in full force , there is immense political pressure for Wakanda to submit to regulations that the country’s leaders fear will endanger the world. That anger is directed at Ramonda (Angela Bassett), who acts as steward of the throne until she names herself T’Challa’s replacement, and she does so magnificently. Both heartbroken and hopeful, Bassett puts on a commanding performance, and like King T’Chaka did for T’Challa, she provides Shuri with a connection to her culture’s past. But while the United Nations ultimatum for Wakanda to relinquish control of its resources sets Wakanda Forever’s themes of colonialism well, this storyline is largely abandoned after the conflict draws Namor (Tenoch Huerta Mejía) and his underwater kingdom of Talokan to the fight.
As headliner of that society, Namor is an attractive antagonist– By whipping a helicopter into the air like a shot put within 30 seconds of your introduction, audiences will at least want to see what kind of havoc you wreak on the battlefield. But while he is a force to be reckoned with, Tenoch Huerta Mejía’s performance is at its best in Namor’s intense dialogue scenes with Shuri, as the two share much in common as important members of the royal families of their monarchies.
Coogler and co-writer Joe Robert Cole infuse Talokan culture with Mesoamerican history, lending real richness to Namor’s determination to go to any lengths to protect his people’s home and resources. Talokan is an interesting society for the MCU to explore in the future., but Wakanda Forever doesn’t set it up as gracefully as Black Panther did with Wakanda. Aside from a few establishing shots during our introduction to Talokan, much of our understanding of her comes from narration during a rushed flashback to her origins, and some important details during that scene seem to be missed. Last time, Coogler and his team took pains to delve into the political and social structures of Wakanda, and while the Talokan’s past is interesting, the current situation is still a bit confusing, especially since there are only two other named Talokanil in the world. screen.
T’Challa’s companions are called upon to play the role of older brothers to Shuri, and the supporting cast is up to the task.
Of course, an opposing force from a nation of underwater warriors provides Wakanda Forever with ample opportunity for maritime mayhem, and gives the MCU a new palette of action. Nevertheless, Wakanda Forever pushes its luck too far as it enters the climactic battle of Act 3 with an ill-conceived and logically baffling tactical choice. Still, credit is due when it comes to the more personal side of that encounter: Coogler seems to have taken note of the first film’s final duel, replete with digital effects, and the corresponding final showdown in Wakanda Forever is much more realistic and cash.
In keeping with Wakanda Forever’s heavy emphasis on community, T’Challa’s companions have to take on the role of older siblings to Shuri, and the cast is at the height of the moment. Danai Gurira’s Okoye is willing to put her career on the line to help Shuri’s grieving process, and she takes on more dimension to herself, though Okoye’s standout scene is an emotional exchange with Ramonda.
Winston Duke’s M’Baku commands attention from the moment he enters the scene. T’Challa’s positive influence is most visible in the way the Jabari leader’s edges have been softened, as M’Baku provides Shuri with surprisingly sensitive advice in one of his darkest moments. Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o) enters the story too late to have much of an impact, but she does facilitate some memorable moments in the latter half of the film.
The other new additions to the list represent a trend from Wakanda Forever to abuse the other ongoing plots the MCU is building, with Dominique Thorne’s Riri Williams as the best example. Riri’s personality is infectious, and her appearance certainly sets an intriguing stage for Disney+’s Ironheart series, but Wakanda Forever struggles to keep her involved in the action beyond belief. The saving grace here is that Riri gives Shuri someone to act like a big brother (or a Tony Stark) as a means of celebrating T’Challa, something Coogler takes perhaps a touch too lightly in pointing out.
It may be the nature of making movies in this universe today, but there’s a significant disconnect between the scenes in Wakanda Forever that feel vital in character development and those that feel more like useful additions to what’s to come. get.
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever had to be a sequel to a cultural monster, a preview of the MCU’s upcoming adventures, and of course, a fond farewell. There are sections in which the struggle to balance those mandates scatters the focus of the story, but the nuanced and committed performances of the returning cast keep her grounded when needed. Tenoch Huerta Mejía’s Namor is a strong rival to Shuri, challenging both his ideology and his grieving process, and his nation of Talokan is given a thoughtful (if rushed) story to complement the film’s themes of colonialism. Director/writer Ryan Coogler’s efforts are at their strongest as Wakanda Forever contends with the loss of Chadwick Boseman’s T’Challa. The details of Wakanda Forever’s long-winded plot are likely to leave little of an impact, but that doesn’t stop the film from holding its own.