Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther sequel arrives in theaters this week, bringing a packed, emotional, and thrilling close to Marvel’s Phase 4.
For the most part, it seemed like Marvel and Ryan Coogler were faced with a nearly impossible task following Chadwick Boseman’s tragic passing. With recasting not a consideration (a decision I wholeheartedly agree with), how do you move forward with a Black Panther sequel?
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever
Directed By: Ryan Coogler
Written By: Ryan Coogler, Joe Robert Cole
Starring: Letitia Wrigth, Lupita Nyong’o, Winston Duke, Angela Bassett, Tenoch Huerta, Danai Gurira, Dominique Thorne
Release Date: November 11, 2022
Somehow, Wakanda Forever manages to strike an impressive balance in presenting a new story that not only honors Boseman’s legacy/iconic portrayal, but still manages to tell a new story and move the world forward. While it’s not a perfect balance, the end result is an impressive film that I haven’t been able to stop thinking about.
[Note: This will be, mostly, a spoiler-FREE review. I won’t detail any major plot details, but will mention some basic things that happen early in the film that I can’t help but discuss. If you’re wanting to go in completely fresh, maybe read after you’ve watched.]
As you’ve gathered from the trailers (and promo material) Black Panther: Wakanda Forever picks up with the death of King T’Challa, the Black Panther. His passing leaves the nation of Wakanda grieving, and his family in shambles. A year later, just as things seem to be getting back to normal for them all (with Queen Ramonda once again taking charge), a new threat begins to emerge.
Since revealing themselves to the world, and in the wake of Thanos’ attack, the nations of the world are hellbent on getting their hands on Wakanda’s impressive technology and, of course, Vibranium. Ramonda isn’t a pushover, however, and continues to resist such attempts.
When Vibranium is located deep in the ocean, however, a new threat comes into light. The underwater kingdom of Talokan, led by King Namor, isn’t keen on having their territory invaded. After having hidden themselves away for centuries, the new discovery of the precious metal, and how they found it, threatens to expose them.
Seeking to end things before it can be a problem, Namor (Tenoch Huerta) sneaks into Wakanda in the hopes of an alliance. He’s not exactly coming in peace, however, and makes it clear his alliance is a one-way street. Wakanda either does what he says (bring him the scientist who made the Vibranium-finding technology possible) or they’ll be the first to suffer his wrath.
Namor’s power is clear, and the threat feels all too real, not to mention the very existence of him and his people changes everything Wakanda thought they knew about their own history…To learn more, Shuri and Okoye head to America in order to track down the young scientist, Riri Williams (Dominique Thorne) Namor is eager to capture.
As they attempt to recover Riri, Okoye and Shuri come face to face with the real threat the Talokans pose. With superior strength, enhanced abilities, and a vast army, they have the potential to upset the power-structure of the world. As Shuri learns more about Namor and his people, it becomes clear that their fear and hatred of the surface world could potentially lead to all out war.
In order to fight back and protect the people of Wakanda, Shuri will have to come to terms with her own anger, grief, and doubts. She’ll have to become something more, without losing herself in the process…
These are the BASICS of the story. Coming in at nearly three hours in runtime, I feel like I’ve only scratched the surface of what happens, but in an effort to remain spoiler-free, that’s about as far as I can go.
Packed But Vital
For the most part, I was really impressed with the overall story being presented. It manages to feel epic in scale, while keeping things focused and allowing for tons of great character moments. It hits the right balance of sitting within the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe, while telling an engaging standalone story that doesn’t feel like it’s only there to set something else up.
Yes, Wakanda Forever is long. It feels like a nearly three hour movie, and I completely understand some of the criticisms I’ve seen about it being “overstuffed.” There is a LOT going on in the film, and it cycles through a number of characters. It has the onerous task of laying out the origins of Namor and Talokan, while connecting to the personal journey of Shuri, Ramonda, and Nakia.
It’s a film/script that’s certainly packed to the gills. Even so, I can’t think of a single thing that could have been cut/trimmed down without significantly impacting the story and character moments. Everything, every character, feels necessary to the story being told. Removing any one aspect would undermine the emotional impact of it all and would feel distinctly rushed.
So yeah, I get it. It is definitely a long movie, but none of it feels boring. It all builds to a stunning, powerful final act that keeps your heart racing and leaves you wanting more (in the best way possible). I know there have plenty of complaints about comic book films ending with massive action pieces that look cool, but don’t have much “weight” to them in terms of story and character. That’s not the case in Wakanda Forever, and it’s largely due to the deliberate story pacing leading up to it.
Heart and Soul
Visually, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is impressive. Ryan Coogler manages to make all the action sequences (even smaller ones) feel impactful, kinetic, and enjoyable. The world design between both Wakanda and Talokan are excellent. They share many similarities, but also manage to feel distinct with that sweet, sweet “lived-in” feel to them.
What I loved most about the movie, however, boils down to how the characters and story are handled. Beyond the flash and lore, Wakanda Forever shines brightest in the character moments and how emotional it manages to be.
By and large, the film is an exploration of grief. It showcases how everyone deals with loss and heartache in different ways, and the consequences in letting it consume you. While everyone in the story must deal with it, these themes are hammered home through Shuri’s journey as she copes with the loss of her brother and coming to terms with what is expected of her.
There are also minor themes presented in the film that tackle the idea of balancing tradition with modernity, faith and science, and the overarching idea of others coming in and pillaging other cultures. All of this is woven into the central concept and story in a masterful way that hit me hard both in the theater and long after the credits rolled.
The result is a film that’s not only highly enjoyable, but will stick with you. In honoring Chadwick’s portrayal of T’Challa (and keeping him at the forefront), Wakanda Forever manages to explore these concepts in a touching way that acknowledges the loss while paving the way forward.
I cried. A few times.
I won’t belabor this point too much, but suffice it to say that absolutely everyone in this film were acting their asses off. Seriously, when I think back to some of my favorite scenes, I can think of several that all involve different characters. Angela Bassett’s Queen Ramonda is going to have people talking, while Letitia Wright gives Shuri an impressive journey. Thorne’s debut as Riri Williams is instantly endearing and I walked out of the theater eager to see what happens for her next in Armor Wars.
Even among all of these great performances, however, Tenoch Huerta’s debut as Namor manages to standout. He brings life to the character in an impressive way. He manages to capture that arrogance and strength the character is known for, while also bringing a level of humanity that makes it easy for audiences to connect/understand where he’s coming from.
More so, you get the sense that he’s not a one-dimensional character. Even as he brings the menace and a genuine sense of threat, you understand (not necessarily agree with) the reasons he came to certain decisions.
Everyone was at the top of their game and brought my immersion to their world to all new levels. I laughed with them, cried with them, cheered, and found myself smiling just watching them interact with one another.
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever isn’t a perfect movie. There are some valid criticisms to be made, but I’d have to veer into spoiler territory to talk about them. As such, I’ll save those thoughts for later. Regardless, none of the problems in the film take away from the fact that it’s a stunning sequel, the best thing in Marvel’s fourth phase, and one of the my favorite Marvel things overall (though I’ll need another viewing before I can really cement that).