Black Panther was a cinematic phenomenon when it hit the screens in 2018. It broke box office records, became the first and only superhero film nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars and was a complete game changer for black cinema. A sequel was inevitable. However, no one would have predicted that the film’s star, the brilliant Chadwick Boseman, would sadly pass away two years after the film’s release. A return to the world of Wakanda became questionable. Would they be able to continue without its lead? Who would or could replace the actor? How will fans react to a new Black Panther film without Black Panther? Well, all the answers to those questions are about to be resolved as Wakanda Forever finally hits our screen, and it is a fitting tribute to the late actor and is an excellent movie.
King T’Challa is dead. The land of Wakanda is in mourning. His sister, Shuri, is deeply sorry she could have saved him. His mother, Queen Ramonda, has to be vital to the nation. Yet the trouble is brewing, not only from international pressure to hand over the ore that the country possesses, Vibranium, but from under the water from Namor, a submariner and ruler of the land of Talocan. The country needs help and needs a new Black Panther.
Ryan Coogler’s sequel is an emotional rollercoaster. It has been an almost impossible job to deal with the death of its star in a way that wouldn’t upset the rest of the film. He manages to do an opening sequence that will have you in tears before the Marvel Studios ident appears, Chadwick Boseman. Once we return, the film starts on its long journey of storytelling and even though you can feel his presence is missing, it still manages to keep the attention with a much more human drama than seen in previous Marvel movies.
This film is full of more profound issues than another crash-bang-wallop superhero movie. It deals with some heavy subject matters in real life. Should one nation be in control of a powerful weapon? How easily war can break out when a simple solution is all that is needed. More importantly, how grief can affect decision-making and the balance of power within a family. Queen Ramonda has lost both a husband and a son, and it is up to her to show strength and dignity, but this is a heavy burden on her shoulders. Her daughter is struggling with events, but once she is sent to find the designer of a mining tool that can track Vibranium, she discovers that she is being laden with the kind of responsibility her brother had to deal with.
Coogler is less interested in the explosive set pieces, although they are there for the fans, but more about the people. He allows his cast plenty of room to flex their acting muscles and give the audience fully fleshed-out characters, which is surprisingly refreshing in a world of lazy superhero films of late. For the first time in a long while, this feels like keeping the attention on the cinematic universe. With the disappointment of Thor: Love and War and Eternals, Marvel seemed to be losing its way. With this, it’s back on track.
The production design is stunning. Like the original, the costumes and sets are breathtaking. Complimenting this is an emotive music score that captures the mood and tone of the whole piece while having an African feel. Like most Marvel productions of late, the effects are often not up to scratch, with some action sequences including figures that look like they’ve been taken from a computer game. Yet the epic feel of the piece is helped by a cast that is really on board to deliver the best film they can. You can tell they are passionate about this and the memory of its late star. What also is refreshing is this is not just a cast full of colour but a female-led drama where women outnumber the men in every way.
Leading the way this time is Letitia Wright as Shuri. Taking most of the heavy lifting as a character brimming with complex emotions, she rises to the occasion and delivers a performance you’d never expect from a film like this. Alongside her is Angela Bassett as her mother, who is terrific. She is given some more showy moments and for it, allows plenty of room to show just how good she is. Mexican actor Tenoch Huerta is an excellent new recruit to the series as Namor, the troubled king with wings on his feet and strength beyond even the Wakanda army. He brings ease of a screen presence and looks like a solid new character to the universe. Nice, also, to see Michaela Coel making her Marvel debut.
If there is any criticism, it’s a tad too long and could have been trimmed by 20 minutes, but having said that, this is a well-made, often exciting addition to the MCU and a loving tribute to a much-loved star. Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is the best in Phase 4 of the universe.
Please note: unlike other Marvel movies, this only has one post-credit sequence and it’s more of an epilogue to the film than what is to come.
4 out of 5
Director: Ryan Coogler
Starring: Letitia Wright, Angela Bassett, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Winston Duke, Martin Freeman, Tenoch Huerta, Michaela Coel
Written by: Joe Robert Cole and (also story) Ryan Coogler
Running Time: 161 mins
Release date: 11th November 2022