"Black Panther: Wakanda Forever" stars Letitia Wright, Lupita Nyong'o, Dana Gurira, Winston Duke, Florence Kasumba, Dominique Thorne, Michaela Coel, Tenoch Huerta, Martin Freeman, and Angela Bassett. Released on November 11, 2022, the film has the people of Wakanda protecting their nation from invading forces.
The film is directed by Ryan Coogler, who also directed "Fruitvale Station", "Creed", and "Black Panther". It is the sequel to the 2018 film, "Black Panther", and the 30th movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Phase Four of the MCU has been an interesting journey for us Marvel fans regarding its films and shows. Some have been great, like "Shang-Chi" and "Spider-Man: No Way Home", while others have been divisive when considering their quality and direction. In the end, its latest phase has shown us that we all handle grief differently. The people of Wakanda are no exception, as the final film in Phase Four sees them tackle their biggest change yet: losing their king.
"Black Panther" was a cultural phenomenon for displaying African representation in the superhero genre through its direction, script, cast, and so much more. As a result, it became the first superhero film to receive an Oscar nomination for Best Picture and placed Chadwick Boseman in the spotlight. A sequel was in development with director Ryan Coogler and Boseman returning, but the plans were quickly changed when the world heard the shocking news about the actor. After Boseman died from colon cancer in 2020, the studio decided not to recast his role of T'Challa and have the film center on Wakanda without their beloved king. This move was unexpected because the MCU is known for recasting its characters. But considering how much Boseman meant to the cast and crew, it seemed to be the right choice at the time. Unfortunately, it was also a lose-lose situation where any choice they made with the character would result in backlash from the fans. Don't you just love fanbases? Regardless of this painful decision, I was excited to see the latest Marvel sequel because of the talent involved and my undying love for its predecessor. With that said, let's return to Wakanda and see if it can conclude the franchise's fourth phase with a poignant bang.
The story centers on the people of Wakanda, the advanced technological nation of Africa. They are grieving over the loss of their king T'Challa, especially his sister Shuri (Wright) and Queen Ramonda (Bassett). While attempting to find a solution to move forward, the kingdom encounters a threat by Talokan, an ancient civilization of underwater-dwelling people led by King Namor (Huerta). Namor's personal goal jeopardizes Wakanda's future, forcing the kingdom to take action. With the help of Nakia (Nyong'o), M'Baku (Duke), the Dora Milaje, and a genius inventor named Riri Williams (Thorne), Shuri and Ramonda fight to protect their home and the legacy T'Challa started.
As I mentioned earlier, the franchise usually recasts its Marvel characters like James Rhodes and Bruce Banner due to reasons. So it's surprising that it won't do the same for Chadwick Boseman as T'Challa. Since Boseman's performance as the titular superhero is so iconic, I don't blame Coogler and the crew for making that decision. However, it does create a challenge for them to make a follow-up that honors both T'Challa and Boseman and their accomplishments that positively affect our society. More importantly, it also has to match the predecessor's combination of superhero action and ambitious storytelling. Fortunately, they had no problem showcasing the brilliance of the fictional nation and world-building, especially with its African traditions and locations. So all that matters now is whether the story lives up to the legacy.
The film's plot features the usual superhero sequel trend of raising the stakes for the threats and characters. In this case, we see Wakanda protecting the vibranium resources from the other kingdoms that want them for their own purposes. However, it also focuses on the grounded reflection on grief and loss and how they affect the people in Wakanda, mainly Shuri and Ramonda. So the film carries over from its predecessor by continuing to reflect on the themes that made "Black Panther" inspiring and hopeful. As a result, "Wakanda Forever" is a satisfying and suitably thoughtful love letter to T'Challa's legacy and, unsurprisingly, Chadwick Boseman. Additionally, it's another superhero sequel that came close to matching the heights of its predecessor regarding its emotional depth, action, and ambitious plot.
One of the things that kept it from being better than the original is that it follows some parts of the formula from the other MCU movies. The primary example of this is the third act, which offers another round of CG superhero spectacle that never fails to dazzle the crowd. However, regarding the tone it's going for, it can leave those wanting something completely different feeling a tad disappointed. Another issue I had with the movie was the runtime. While the story has enough moments in its world and characters to keep me engaged, the film does take a bit too long to get its poignant point across. Even the pacing looked a bit off when it transitioned from one sequence to the next during a few scenes. Aside from those flaws, I appreciate the effort displayed in its presentation both as a superhero movie and as a eulogy for Boseman.
It's easy to see that Ryan Coogler understands the importance of the late actor and the legacy introduced in "Black Panther". Because of that, he successfully displays a near-perfect balance of emotional heartbreak and superhero flair without overdoing its tear-jerking scenes. Part of that is due to his direction, which emphasizes the scope and majesty of its sceneries and characters. There's also his screenplay which he co-wrote with Joe Robert Cole. Despite some tiny restrictions here and there, the script worked well in fleshing out the themes and providing some bold decisions. With these elements coming together smoothly, it's no wonder Coogler remains one of the most talented filmmakers working in Hollywood, especially considering his perspective on African American culture.
The cast had plenty of work ahead of them to carry the sequel without their beloved friend/actor, which made me curious and nervous. Thankfully, they managed to pull it off with ease. Letitia Wright delivered another strong performance as Shuri, who's gone from being a supporting character to one of the film's central leads. She offered a compelling showcase that reflects Shuri's inner conflict on where her path lies following T'Challa's death. Angela Bassett was also fantastic in providing raw emotion in her performance as Ramonda. Bassett is another actress that always demands my attention whenever she's on screen, and I can't help but love every second of it. Then there's Tenoch Huerta, who makes his MCU debut as the film's antagonist, Namor. He did a great job portraying the king of Talokan, but I also appreciate how the character is written. Namor is another character who's far more than just a super-powered bad guy who wants to take over the world. He only strives to protect his people from harm and will do what is necessary to fulfill his understandable motives, even though some of his actions seem wrong. It shows that an interesting villain can be as engaging as their heroic rival. Finally, we have Riri Williams, played by Dominique Thorne. My first impression of her was admittedly good, with Thorne putting a respectable amount of effort into her performance. That's more than enough to get me curious about her upcoming Disney+ series.
But, of course, I can't forget about the aspects that create the world of Wakanda. Like the first film, "Wakanda Forever" excels in combining its fictional nations with authentic cultural traditions, especially regarding the production designs and costumes, which looked stunning. The score by Ludwig Göransson also continues to rock with its African-type music for the heart-pounding action and the emotional scenes. The fight sequences are also entertaining to watch, with a good amount of tension to keep my eyes peeled.
Overall, "Black Panther: Wakanda Forever" was faced with the challenge of moving forward without Chadwick Boseman and even T'Challa. However, it accomplished this difficult task by delivering a satisfyingly effective sequel that's action-packed and suitably thoughtful. It's not enough to dethrone its predecessor due to its formula and runtime. Still, it successfully built upon what worked in the first movie, making it one of the better movies in the franchise's fourth phase. Thanks to its engaging cast, Coogler's ambitious direction, emotional weight, and fitting tribute to Boseman, the movie proves that the future of Wakanda is in good hands, both on the screen and off. Additionally, it serves as a great conclusion to the grieving phase of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Let's see if Phase Five can bring us back to the epicness when "Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania" releases in February.