Director: Ryan Coogler
Cast : Letitia Wright, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Angela Bassett, Tenoch Huerta, Winston Duke, Dominique Thorne, Florence Kasumba, Michaela Coel, Martin Freeman
Run Time : 161 min
Opens : 10 November 2022
Rating : PG13
2018’s Black Panther is one of the highlights of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). It garnered commercial and critical success, including winning three Oscars, the first MCU movie to do so. All eyes were on director Ryan Coogler to see where Black Panther 2 would take the hero. After a tragic turn of events in real life, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever takes unexpected turns of its own, further exploring the world of Wakanda and beyond.
King T’challa has died of an illness, leaving his sister Shuri (Letitia Wright) distraught. Queen Ramonda (Angela Bassett) continues to guide her daughter as she leads the people of Wakanda. Having opened itself up to the world, the nation is vulnerable to those who wish to exploit its precious natural resource, the metal Vibranium. An expedition in search of Vibranium in the Atlantic Ocean provokes K’uk’ulkan/Namor (Tenoch Huerta), the ruler of the underwater kingdom of Talokan. Former Wakandan spy Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o) must return to work alongside General Okoye (Danai Gurira) as Namor threatens to attack Wakanda. Caught in the middle of it all is a brilliant young scientist named Riri Williams (Dominique Thorne), whose role in developing a Vibranium detection device has made her a target of Namor. Still shaken by her brother’s death, Shuri is faced with taking on the mantle of the Black Panther in a time of great instability.
Some have decried various MCU movies for being a little too silly, and for having humorous moments undermine dramatic stakes. That is not a problem here. Wakanda Forever is a sombre, sincere and respectful affair; the real-life passing of Chadwick Boseman infusing the film with a dignified sadness. This is a movie about grief, and responsibility in the face of said grief. It’s a movie about the decisions we make when we are affected by tragedy, and the consequences of making decisions in that state. Coogler continues to be a force to be reckoned with behind the camera, and there is the sense that this is the story he wanted to tell, and not something producers meddled extensively with. Wakanda Forever’s greatest strength is the movie’s balance of character interiority and expansive world-building, without sacrificing one for the other.
Wakanda Forever’s heaviness means it is not exactly the most exuberant, entertaining comic book movie, but it isn’t trying to be that either. Perhaps it could do with a few more cheer-worthy moments, something the first movie did not lack for, but it generally wears its seriousness well. The movie is long, and suffers the most when we are focusing on CIA agent Everett Ross (Martin Freeman), who shares many scenes with a character introduced in one of the Disney+ TV series. While perhaps necessary to emphasise the wider impact of the goings-on in Wakanda, this feels like distracting set-up for future, non-Black Panther related MCU projects.
The absence of Chadwick Boseman is something the movie leans into instead of avoiding. Letitia Wright is truly magnificent in a role that asks a lot of her. Shuri is pushed to the forefront as she struggles with a disdain for ancient traditions and a lack of faith in spiritual beliefs, spurred by her brother’s untimely passing. We are used to seeing Shuri being playful and intelligent, but here she is broken and understandably prone to rage. Wright plays all this without losing sight of what made the character so endearing to begin with. Bassett is also undeniable here, and her scenes with Wright are some of the movie’s most emotional.
The movie introduces Namor into the MCU. Much like his DC Comics counterpart Aquaman, there are aspects of the character that are unavoidably silly: he has pointy ears, winged ankles, and wears green trunks. The movie reimagines Namor and the civilisation he hails from, taking inspiration from Mesoamerican mythology. Some design aspects remain a little goofy, but the movie’s world-building is impressive, and Tenoch Huerta is a commanding screen presence as a complicated character, someone who is antagonistic towards our heroes but is always sympathetic. Namor’s entry into the MCU is something that fans have long been waiting for, and while this incarnation might not fit what everyone was imagining, the movie makes a good case for the changes to the source material and integrates Namor into the wider Black Panther story well.
Summary: Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is a movie with true gravity, more so than many recent MCU films. The movies in the franchise are sometimes in danger of feeling inconsequential, but Wakanda Forever feels like a movie that matters. The real-life death of Chadwick Boseman is handled in a respectful and dignified way, leading to a movie that has a certain heaviness and seriousness to it. The fantastical elements and world-building are balanced with an emotional honesty. Shuri gets a fantastic character arc and Letitia Wright plays her with strength and nuance. This is not the exuberant fun some audiences might be expecting from the MCU, but Wakanda Forever wears its seriousness well and is still an expansive and spectacular adventure. There is one mid-credits scene.
RATING: 4.5 out of 5 Stars