Black Panther Wakanda Forever: Review
In the aftermath of Black Panther star Chadwick Boseman's sudden passing in 2020, the prospects of a sequel for the 2018 smash success seemed like a daunting proposal. How could director Ryan Coogler and his creative team fill the void for an actor who became a remarkable symbol of strength and empowerment to so many?
My feelings were especially mixed considering the Marvel Cinematic Universe's (MCU) track record. Fans may line up in droves for their latest features, but not all MCU titles are built equally. For every roaring crowdpleaser like Avengers: Endgame and Iron Man, Marvel produces its fair share of lackluster duds, like Thor: Love and Thunder and Iron Man 2, that only exist as cynical products cashing in on the superhero craze.
With Wakanda Forever, Coogler and company continue the Black Panther narrative by not shying away from the production's heartbreaking realities. The results offer a sensitive and deeply affectionate film that thankfully eschews most of the MCU's tired trends.
Coogler deserves significant praise for the herculean effort he accomplishes with Wakanda Forever. He sets the tone immediately in his somber opening frames, reflecting on the passing of Boseman, and in turn, his character's lionized legacy as the leader of the Wakanda community. The death of both figures is felt throughout Wakanda Forever, showcasing a rare embrace of sobering realities that always seems elusive to superheroes' perfectionist image. Coogler's numerous tributes are also well-earned thanks to his infectious sincerity. The creative team's emotional resonance toward their former colleague radiates in full force as they discover meaningful ways to honor Boseman's legacy.
As a sequel, Wakanda Forever balances its poignant reflections with intelligent progressions of the original film's narrative and socially conscious threads. The focus on previously supporting characters, like Letitia Wright's Shuri, Lupita Nyong'o's Naika, and Angela Basset's impactful role as the Wakandian leader Ramonda, offers a refreshing new perspective. Each well-defined character toils with welcomed vulnerabilities in their personal evolutions amidst trying circumstances. It's an appreciated change to see three female protagonists of color feature lived-in textures as characters in a genre that often overlooks their perspectives.
Wakanda Forever also marks the introduction of Namor – the vengeful leader of an underwater kingdom that looks to combat his tribe's history as discarded byproducts of colonization. Like what Black Panther accomplished with its well-realized antagonist Killmonger, Namor elevates the typical formula of villainous roles. His genuine plights, which are deeply entrenched within real-world sentiments regarding underrepresented communities' disenfranchised treatment, help make the character a compassionate presence for viewers to ruminate on. Actor Tenoch Huerta helps tremendously in bringing Namor's sentiments to life through his commanding dramatic gravitas.
There are still some frustrating MCU contrivances throughout Wakanda Forever's runtime. The insistent need to constantly introduce new characters and expand upon the universe's lore can often come to a detriment to the focused narrative that Coogler and company are trying to tell. The overwhelming bloat leads to the breathless 161-minute runtime featuring its fair share of discombobulated sequences. Additionally, action set pieces continue to be a weakness of the MCU. I appreciate Coogler's inclusion of a few well-placed slow-motion techniques to accent the underlying chaos, but most of the set pieces are fairly routine displays of carnage.
Thankfully, Coogler and his talented team ensure that Wakanda Forever hits most of the right marks. The sequel showcases the prosperity of the Black Panther franchise's focus on humanizing its subjects rather than treating them like mindless action figures.
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is now playing in theaters.