While not as memorable as its predecessor, director Ryan Coogler handles this respectable sequel with grace.
Phase 4 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) has been rocky, to say the least. Whether on the film or television side, there has been a lack of consistency compared to the previous three phases of the MCU. And now Black Panther: Wakanda Forever arrives, facing its own challenges aside from being the closing chapter of Phase 4. First, and most importantly, paying respect to the insurmountable loss of its main star, Chadwick Boseman. And second, trying to come close to its predecessor that was monumental in both the entertainment and cultural landscapes. While Wakanda Forever is not on the same level of its predecessor (and granted, it was never going to achieve that), this sequel still manages to hold its own and honor the legacy of its passing star with care.
In wake of King T’Challa’s death, the nation of Wakanda finds itself struggling to keep its resource, vibramium, from falling into the wrong hands. And with world powers trying to intervene, things become more complicated when Namor and people of the kingdom of Talokan, a hidden underwater civilization, start appearing on the surface. With this new threat coming from the depths of the ocean, Queen Ramonda, Princes Shuri, Okoye, M’Baku, and other citizens of Wakanda must band together and protect their kingdom.
What made the first Black Panther film one of best films in the MCU is how it felt separated from its own cinematic universe and told its own story. That is not the case in Wakanda Forever, where the film introduces characters in the MCU outside of Wakanda who are either reappearing from other films or shows or are appearing for the first time to lay the groundwork to reappear in future MCU installments. By having to mark things off a checklist that seemingly must be in every MCU product these days, Wakanda Forever loses some its luster. Let’s also not forget there is some spotty visual effects work throughout the film. But if you’ve been following the demands Marvel Studios has been putting on the visual effects studios to polish their films right up until the release dates of their products, then this part should not surprise you.
Like the film’s antagonist using his wings on his ankles, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever soars high when it focuses on its story of grieving and having its main characters forge new paths going forward. At the heart of this film is a story about mothers and their children, all of whom are overcoming adversity in their own ways. The best parts of this film are the quieter moments (even though the score from Ludwig Göransson throughout is great), where characters try to handle and accept loss and do what’s best for their kingdoms. And above all other things in this film, its tribute to Chadwick Boseman is sincere and handled so well.
From top to bottom, the cast of Wakanda Forever is outstanding. While Letitia Wright is the main star, it’s the rest of the cast that shines brightest. Angela Basset as Queen Ramonda having to lead a nation while still grieving the loss of her son might get some awards consideration for her performance, and you’ll see why when her character makes her appearance before the United Nations. Danai Gurira as Okoye shows us why she’s arguably the best character from Wakanda right now and currently one of the biggest bad asses in the MCU. Winston Duke is back as M’Baku and is just as charming as he was in the first film. And we can’t forget about Lupita Nyong’o as Nakia, whose appearance in any film brings out the best of the cast around her.
But the best member of this cast is Tenoch Huerta as Namor, who is not just the best part about this film but also just might the best thing to come out of all of Phase 4 in the MCU. Tenoch adds depth to a comic book character that is finally being shown on screen for the first time in the character’s 83-year history. Tenoch’s character development is akin to Michael B. Jordan’s Erik Killmonger in Black Panther, which means you’ll understand why he is doing what he’s doing for his people. I can only imagine that Tenoch’s stardom will skyrocket after this weekend. It also cannot go without mentioning that the Mesoamerican approach to Namor and the kingdom of Talokan in and of itself is some of the best creative decision-making to come out of the MCU in years.
Wakanda Forever was always going to face difficult challenges because of the enormous loss of Chadwick Boseman, whose impact and departure from this world is still felt over two years later. Even though the film is far from perfect, Coogler manages to handle this personal story with grace. All-in-all this movie does an admirable job of closing out things under somewhat less than optimum circumstances.