Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is a messier but more emotionally engaging film than the first Black Panther.
Published on November 17, 2022
Rating 4 /5
There’s a hole left in the Marvel Cinematic Universe left by Chadwick Boseman’s tragic death. When his voice graced the Marvel TV series What If, it was bittersweet to see him perform the character one last time if only in voice. So where do we go from here? How do you continue Black Panther without Boseman? Thankfully, this theme of legacy and loss is something that Phase IV has built up beautifully and this is by far the masterful crescendo of this stage of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Refusing to replace Boseman, Wakanda Forever addresses the character of T’Challa dying. His loss is greatly mourned by the people of Wakanda. One year later, the people of this Afrofuturist society continue to keep their guard up in the face of international pressures to steal their most valuable resource: Vibranium. With Wakanda under the control of Queen Ramonda (Angela Bassett), their culture is far more protective, taking in prisoners who attempt to assault their Wakandan bases and tossing them right back in the UN’s face. Romanda rules with confidence, having come to terms with the loss of her son T’Challa and filling his shoes.
Less inclined to be accepting of T’Challa’s passing isShuri (Letitia Wright), the lead Wakandan scientist and T’Challa’s sister. Having struggled to forgive herself for the death of her brother, possibly saving him with a cure that she might’ve given if she were a few seconds faster, she isn’t ready to say goodbye. She’s still bitter and angry about all of it, denying her stage of grief from her mother. It is a tough challenge she’ll have to master that can’t be so easily solved with her advanced knowledge of chemistry and robots.
Wakanda’s latest threat doesn’t come from a country of humans but from an underwater kingdom of mutants. Namor (Tenoch Huerta Mejía) isn’t too happy about humans protruding into his secluded culture that has a striking resemblance to Wakanda. While he could form an alliance given their similar goals and histories, Namor asserts his dominance by telling Wakanda that they are either with them or against them. And since his kingdom of Talokan harbors people who kill to keep their underwater sanctum secure, Wakanda isn’t exactly on board. They’re not exactly prepared to go to war either, considering the Talokan also have Vibranium weaponry and know-how. Not to mention they have this pretty frightening ability to use a siren song that lures people into drowning themselves.
For a film that features a lot of underwater sequences, there are a lot of special effects and not all of them look that great. This seems inevitable given the grand ambitions of director Ryan Coogler to stage an epic fantasy war of kingdoms. The climax, in particular, features a Wakandan submarine engaging in combat as Talokans scale the hull’s lengthy exterior while Wakandan warriors make daring dashes while on wires. The effects are thankfully decent for this sequence and the elaborate fight choreography can shine through.
Where the film falters is that it’s nearly three hours and doesn’t have as much time to develop all of its crowding characters. While there is plenty of room for the returning characters of Okoye (Danai Gurira) and M’Baku (Winston Duke) to shine brighter, the newcomer Riri Williams (Dominique Thorne) feels like she doesn’t have as many scenes as she should have. She has remarkable chemistry with Shuri and Okoye and it’s honestly sad we don’t get more of those scenes. Her involvement in the greater conflict seems like she’d be a crucial element and yet her revelation of being Ironheart, the spiritual successor to Iron Man, seems to hit the ground running in this film. Also, while most of the returning characters get some cool stuff to do, Everet Ross (Martin Freeman) has so little to do as a CIA contact that his inclusion seems more like a guest cameo, despite having several scenes that are sadly almost completely divorced from the central story. It feels like Ross is in a different Marvel or TV show that got accidentally spliced into this one or assembled in someone’s fan edit of the MCU.
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is a messier but more emotionally engaging film than the first Black Panther. While it does serve well as an ode to Chadwick Boseman, the central story gives his loss more than just a thank you and send-off. It’s a narrative that develops around the legacy he left behind and finding the courage to continue. All of it amounts to what is quite possibly the best film of Phase IV of the MCU.
Mark has been a professional film critic for over five years and a film lover all his life.