The long-awaited Black Panther sequel, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, has finally arrived in theaters. Before you go to the theater, grab a pack of tissues to bring with you. You’re bound to cry from sorrow throughout the film. Since there’s a lot to spoil, this review will probably be shorter than you expect to let you discover the film and its secrets on your own.
A fair warning before I continue; this movie is not long like the first film, and it’s best not to expect that going into it. While the vibe of Afrofuturism is still there, and it’s a return to the vibrant characters and world of Wakanda, this movie is a different beast. Where you’d expect equal parts humor and action, this film replaces some of that with grief, sadness, loss, and trauma. Chadwick Boseman’s death from Colon Cancer in August 2020 left a vibranium mound-sized hole in the world. As long as he was with us, he was gone just as quickly, and many of us did not see it coming because of the secrecy that hid his illness from everyone but a select few. The impact of that is still being felt in real-life, but it’s on display and built into the fabric of this film.
Not only did director and co-writer Ryan Coogler have the herculean task of following up his 2018 film, but he also had to advance the MCU’s story and revise the script to this film, all while processing and leading a cast and crew through immeasurable pain and angst. You’d almost forgive anyone if the quality of a product suffered due to all that, but luckily, Wakanda Forever does not. Most blockbusters would buckle under the weight of carrying on and following up such a monumental film, but the level of thought, artistry (especially the costumes), and subtext throughout are remarkable.
As Wakanda is forced to grasp King T’Challa’s decision to reveal his country as a global superpower, they are also left to deal with his death. The former puts Wakanda at odds with Talokan and its mysterious leader, Namor, leading to a conflict that crackles and threatens to burn the screen from the sheer intensity.
Everyone in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever steps up and brings their A-game, especially Angela Bassett, Letitia Wright, and Tenoch Huerta. While I won’t delve into spoiler territory, the opening of the film haunts Shuri throughout the whole film. All calls for an Oscar nomination for Bassett are deserved for showing a stoic Ramonda grieving with pain and solace of losing a son and sacrificing for her country on multiple levels.
Huerta steals the show as Namor. Each time he’s on screen, it’s hard to take your eyes off him as he portrays Namor with ferocity, anger, and a dash of charisma that is magnetizing and brings him in league with some of the MCU’s best villains. Namor’s backstory and generational trauma lend credence to every single action he takes in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. I hope Feige and the crew have plans to bring him back in Phases 5 and 6.
What I loved about this Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is that it has shades of the things we BIPOC have and continue to endure. Whether it’s racism, generational trauma, political machinations, or imposter syndrome, this film tackles all that and more with ease. But what else would expect from Ryan Coogler? He deftly uses pieces of all this to bring Dominique Thorne’s Riri Williams / Ironheart into the world of Wakanda while driving interest in her upcoming Disney+ series.
However, the film isn’t all doom and gloom; there are scenes with levity that feel natural (as opposed to some other MCU projects) and well-timed amongst the chaos in the movie. There are also callbacks to other Black Panther-related MCU projects that are impactful for those of us that know the material well.
The one drawback that I do have with the film is the running time. While all scenes felt purposeful and without filler, you felt the length of the movie. However, it’s like the film needed to be longer to address all the points of the story. As soon as you think about the length, the film draws you back in.
While Phase 4 has been a mixed effort overall, this was the perfect film to end it on and to pay tribute to Chadwick. Coogler again shows why he’s one of the best living directors and writers working today. You owe it to yourself to see this in the theater at least once before it arrives on Disney+. Let’s hope there will be a Black Panther 3 with as much emotion and thoughtfulness as this film had.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars.
Autumn Durald Arkapaw was a fantastic choice for cinematography, and it shines the most during the underwater scenes.
Stay for the mid-credit scene. It’s not what you expect, and it’s all the better for it.
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is now playing in theaters.