'Black Panther Wakanda Forever' review: Emotionally charged sequel honors Chadwick Boseman's legacy
Courtesy of Marvel Studios
How do you continue the legacy and groundbreaking representation of the Black Panther without Chadwick Boseman’s King T’Challa? It’s a tough and emotionally grueling question Marvel Studios and writer-director Ryan Coogler had to endure after the tragic and heartbreaking passing of its franchises’ lead star in August, 2020 following his battle with colon cancer. It’s hard to imagine a world without Boseman as the Wakandian hero, but the stirring and thematically grounded follow-up “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” not only finds a way to eulogize and honor Boseman’s life, but moves the sticks forward and cements it as one of the better, more recent Marvel entries after a string of creative disappointments. It still has convoluted Marvel mechanics to contest with (and some sloppy CGI that’s now become a meme within the brand), but you have to give Ryan Coogler immense credit for pushing forward and delivering on the Black Panther name in a way that doesn’t feel beholden to interconnected universes.
Of course, the thought on everyone’s mind is how does “Wakanda Forever” deal with Boseman’s untimely passing, and the first 15-minutes answers the question pretty quickly. The opening sequence is a wallop that gracefully bids the character farewell and details how the tribal nation of Wakanda plans to move ahead. The film then shifts gears to a new, pressing conflict that strikes a timely relevance as Queen Ramonda (a magnetic Angela Bassett) sits before the United Nations asserting her dominance and reiterating Wakanda’s strict policy of withholding its priceless resource, vibranium, from the entire world. Back at home, her daughter, Princess Shuri (Leitita Wright) is still reeling from the loss, struggling to maintain composure as the world sits without a Black Panther after the technology died with her brother, T’Challa.
But, as “Wakanda Forever” will tell you, the universe is vast and huge and vibranium doesn’t exist in one location. Evident by the arrival of Namor (Tenoch Huerta – incredible), a hybrid mutant and Atlantean king of an underwater utopia called Talokan, who has strong ideas about the world and plans to start a war on the surface level over fears of colonization. His city is built on a trove of vibranium and he doesn’t plan on sharing, especially after witnessing what western and European countries did with unchecked power, and he gives Queen Ramonda an ultimatum: stand as allies or fight as enemies.
Namor isn’t your average villain, and Coogler and co-writer Joe Robert Cole wisley flesh out his character's history, attributing him the proper convictions and humanity that elevate him above the crop of Marvel baddies who’s only personality traits are world domination. Not to mention his massive army rivals Wakanda in terms of scope, size, and tactics. One such trait see’s his legion of warriors belt out a super-sonic signal that makes people kill themselves like it were a deleted scene from M. Night Shyamalan’s “The Happening.”
But that’s the Coogler effect. The filmmaker, known for “Fruitvale Station,” and “Creed,” is blessed with the ability to pull real, human traits from a franchise dominated by cameos, special effects and the never ending cycle of “what comes next.” The world of Wakanda and the people who live there, among those returning are Lupita Nyong’o as Nakia, Dani Gurira’s Okoye and Winston Duke’s M’ Baku, is complex and richly layered and though the absence of Boseman hurts, “Wakanda Forever” knows that in order to heal, you must honor the past while looking towards the future. Does that mean a new Black Panther will be anointed? It won’t take a rocket scientist to figure that out.
The performances certainly rise to the scripts’ blistering emotional stakes: Angela Bassett’s rousing and commanding presences gives “Wakanda Forever” much needed heft and Dominique Throne fits right in playing MIT whiz-kid Riri Williams aka Ironheart. And Wright takes the baton and runs with it, taking Shuri to new places. Of course, this being part of the Marvel machine, there are some wobbly elements that are hard to ignore. Namely a subplot involving Martin Freeman’s CIA operative Everett K. Ross and his new boss that feels like stale breadcrumbs being laid for future installments and the climactic finale, set entirely in the ocean, looks hazy at best.
Still, the undercurrent of “Wakanda Forever” (plus Ludwig Göransson’s sensational score and Ruth Carter’s slick costumes) and what its implications mean for the character going forward are hard to ignore. Coogler has crafted a singular approach that makes it feel like an authentic and real movie. Unfortunately, it also sets a high bar for what these Marvel superhero movies can be moving forward. They can deliver powerful messages of unity and acceptance while acting as a beacon of strength amid all the silliness. But the most important aspect of “Wakanda Forever” is that it tastefully dedicates itself to the life Bosemen would’ve led: one of forgiveness and honesty. Through this movie, his light lives on.
BLACK PANTHER WAKANDA FOREVER opens in theaters Friday, November 11th.