Black Panther: Wakanda Forever has a tough job on its hands, needing to drive the story of Wakanda’s people forward, while simultaneously dealing with the loss of their leader. The sequel succeeds – just – but there are a few missteps along the way.
The death of Chadwick Boseman was keenly felt the world over. Having lit up the screen as Black Panther in Captain America: Civil War – and then in his own phenomenally successful standalone movie in 2018 – the actor the tragically died from colon cancer, just two years later.
There was talk of ending the Black Panther franchise there. Or re-casting the character of T’Challa. But instead, we get Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, a fitting tribute to an incredible character the movies lost, but more importantly, to an amazing man the world lost.
Director Ryan Coogler and co-writer Joe Robert Cole are tasked with the tricky gig of moving the Black Panther story on, while being respectful to those real-world events. They begin by tackling the death head-on, meaning the movie starts in devastating fashion.
Dealing with the death of T’Challa
Black Panther kicks off with Shuri (Letitia Wright) desperately trying to save her brother, who is dying from an undisclosed illness. Yet in spite of her brilliance – and the awesome Wakandan technology at her disposal – she can’t save T’Challa, his heart rate dropping until the Black Panther finally passes away.
There’s a funeral procession, T’Challa’s casket carried through the capital as Wakandans celebrate his life, and mourn his death. While the loss hits his family in different ways.
T’Challa’s mother Ramonda (Angela Basset) – the Queen – takes a spiritual route, feeling him in the breeze, gently pushing her forward. His partner Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o) disappears to Haiti, preferring to grieve far away from her people. And Shuri is a wreck, her emotions so real and raw that she can’t begin the process of healing.
The film then cuts to the familiar Marvel logo, but rather than being accompanied by signature theme, we just hear the sound of that mystical breeze.
What is Black Panther: Wakanda Forever about?
The action then jumps to a year later, with Queen Ramonda appearing before the United Nations as mercenaries endeavour to steal Vibranium from a Wakandan outreach center.
Possession of the powerful metal drives the film’s story, the world wanting Wakanda’s indiginous resource, and willing to take it by force; the Queen refusing to give into these acts of aggression.
She tears the diplomats a new one, while giving them a lesson in geopolitics, and the historic reasons for her people’s refusal to back down. It’s stirring stuff.
America’s search continues however, using a “Vibranium Detector” to scour the Atlantic Ocean for a potentially untapped source. Only to then be attacked by what they believe to be Wakandans, but who very much are not.
Instead, it’s classic comic book character Namor (Tenoch Huerta), who together with his underwater army, will stop at nothing to protect his own supply of Vibranium.
Namor has a fascinating back-story, loosely inspired by Mesoamerican history, but here given a fantastic spin. Via flashback, we learn that his pregnant mother was forced to ingest a magical plant some 500 years previous, one that turned him into a mutant with winged feat, and forced his people into the ocean, and away from war and disease.
Spanish colonialism also plays a role in his story, Namor witnessing the effects of slavery when he tries to bury his mother in the soil of her homeland. Those horrors turn him into “a child without love for the selfish world”, and so Namor spends his time preparing his people for the moment that world attacks.
Trouble is, when we visit the underwater kingdom of Talokan, it’s all a bit underwhelming, the visuals dull and lifeless when compared with those seen in the similarly themed Avatar and Aquaman. Meaning it barely seems worthy of defending.
But Namor will protect his home at all costs, and so gives the Wakandans an ultimatum that drives the second half of the story – team up as allies, or become Talokan’s mortal enemy, and face the consequences that follow.
Subscribe to our newsletter for the latest updates on Esports, Gaming and more.
Serving the Marvel Cinematic Universe
It’s a compelling central conflict, one that the film should focus on. But this being the Marvel Cinematic Universe, there are sequels and overarching narratives to think of, so Wakanda Forever gets side-tracked by side-characters and barely relevant side-stories.
Riri Williams – aka Ironheart in the comics – makes her MCU debut as an MIT student who invented that Vibranium Detector for the CIA, and who therefore becomes a pawn in the deadly game being played by Wakandans and Talokans.
Dominque Thorne is hilarious in the role, injecting humor into proceedings by delivering a running commentary on the insane situations she finds herself. But the character feels extraneous here, being briefly dropped into the story so Ironheart can then be spun-off.
Riri isn’t nearly as shoe-horned in as Everett Ross however; Martin Freeman’s character popping up at regular intervals to add little to the story beyond interacting with another character set to become a major force in the MCU.
The presences of both Riri and Ross – and the many scenes they fill – turns a tight two hour feature into a baggy 160-minute slog.
This is a darker Black Panther narratively, dealing as it does with death, loss, and grief. But it’s also a darker film visually, the bright color palette of the first film replaced by something more grainy and muted.
Much of the movie plays out in murky water, or darkness on land, meaning it isn’t always easy to make out what’s happening during the various fight and chase sequences, which are frequently filmed at close quarters, thereby adding to the confusion.
Wakanda Forever’s action is therefore inferior to its predecessor, right up until the climax, when we’re treated to a spectacular sequence that makes up for much of what has gone before, and smartly marries visuals, story, and theme for a spellbinding finale.
The Verdict – Is Black Panther: Wakanda Forever good?
The first Black Panther focussed on the birth of a brave hero, and the plight of a compelling villain, building to a grandstanding clash between the pair. The second movie tells a similar story, about the birth of a new hero – whose identity we won’t spoil here – and the journey of, if anything, an even more sympathetic villain.
But it gets bogged down in unnecessary sub-plots, so while the final 40 minutes are superb, the two hours it takes to get there are hard work, and rarely as compelling as required.
Tenoch Huerta is the star of the show, the actor slowly peeling back the layers of Namor as he becomes an ever-more complex and multi-layered antagonist. Even if the winged feet look a little silly. While the matriarchy that takes charge in T’Challa’s absence is also superb, with Wright good as the sister whose thirst for revenge threatens to destroy her, and Bassett brilliant as the heartbroken mother endeavoring to do right by her son.
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever Score: 3/5
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is a fitting tribute to Chadwick Boseman, and a decent film in its own right. It was never going to be easy merging the sadness felt by the characters in this story – and the world at large – with the whistles and bangs expected of a Marvel movie. But Ryan Coogler has nevertheless managed to craft a coherent, and frequently affecting story about grief, hope, and moving on without leaving the past behind.
More Black Panther: Wakanda Forever…