‘Black Panther: Wakanda Forever’ Review

preview for Black Panther: Wakanda Forever

Just one day after Marvel premiered Black Panther in theaters, NBA star Victor Oladipo took to the court for the 2018 All-Star Dunk Contest donning the hero’s mask. Before gearing up for his shot, he turned to the side—and there was Chadwick Boseman, beaming. The 42 and Get Up actor was the star of the new superhero film about Black Panther, the first character of African descent in mainstream comics. Greeting Boseman with the film’s now-iconic Wakanda salute, Oladipo ran up to the basket, flew high in the air, and slammed the ball home.

Despite incredible stories from creators such as Don McGregor, Stan Lee, Reginald Hudlin, Christopher Priest, and Ta-Nehisi Coates, Black Panther wouldn’t move from the universe of comic book fandom to the larger cultural consciousness until Black Panther—released 50 years after since the character’s debut on the page. Immediately, it was a triumph. As Oladipo told reporters following the contest, Black Panther was both a movement in our generation” and “a monumental statement.” Children left the theater crossing their arms over their chest with the same gusto as Spider-Man’s wrist thwip. Rap stars like Kendrick Lamar were spitting bars declaring, “I am T’Challa,” in the movie. All the excitement about the colorful rocks in Infinity War—which was set to debut in theaters just two months after Black Panther—couldn’t matter less.

Coogler and the cast of Black Panther had genuinely done the impossible. They figured out how to tell a story in this vast comic book universe without tying almost any of it into what came before it or what needed to happen next. Black Panther stood on its own. The audience didn’t need to know shit about Marvel comics to feel its greatness. Of course, a massive part of that success was due to Boseman’s performance as T’Challa. The actor, who died in 2020 at the age of 43 after a secret battle with colon cancer, fronted what was clearly the most culturally significant Marvel film at the time. Don’t forget the brilliant minds behind the story, orchestrated by Fruitvale Station director Ryan Coogler and The People v O.J. Simpson screenwriter Joe Robert Cole.

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Black Panther: Wakanda Forever follows those who were left behind after the king’s death.

Marvel Studios / Disney

The sequel, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, had a completely different set of obstacles to face. Following Boseman’s death, Coogler and Cole rewrote the entire film, which features a few MCU necessities I suspect may have otherwise never been included. Of course, the inclusions of Ironheart‘s RiRi Williams (Dominique Thorne) and Valentina Allegra de Fontaine (Julia-Louis Dreyfus) meant that Wakanda Forever‘s nearly three-hour runtime was going to be bloated no matter what. They both could easily have been scrapped to add depth to the new villain—Namor (Tenoch Huerta) and the citizens of Talokan—but that’s an inevitability of the Disney content machine.

But before Marvel can even get to all these new characters in Wakanda Forever—or explain just how one of Marvel’s oldest, sea-dwelling mutants finally wound up in a film now 30 entries and multiple TV series deep into the MCU—we must pay homage to Boseman. In a powerful funeral that both mourns and celebrates his legacy, the film quickly centers on those who were left behind. Namely, the all-female army of Wakanda. Queen Ramonda (Angela Bassett), Princess Shuri (Letitia Wright), and General Okoye (Danai Gurira) eat up every scene they get in Wakanda Forever. The always-charming Winston Duke is here as well, but he’s mostly just one of the gang.

Queen Ramonda arrives for a scene at the United Nations like Rihanna was about to perform at the Super Bowl right then and there.

Shuri and Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o) carry the largest emotional beats, and the film shines best when it showcases the depths of their grief. It’s easy to get wrapped up in the Black Panther-ness of it all, but audiences may have forgotten that Shuri was originally introduced as the smartest person in the this comic book universe. That giant intellect is why her inability to save her brother from his mysterious “illness” tortures her character in Wakanda Forever. Heartbreak and regret sends her down a path that harkens back to nearly the same dilemma that T’Challa faced with Killmonger—and face to face with the sequel’s new antagonist.

Introduced all the way back in 1939 within the pages of a comic book literally titled Marvel Comics #1, Namor is as old as Marvel characters can get. The merman not only predates DC Comics’s similar hero (Aquaman) by about two years, but also just about every Marvel hero you could think. This “ancient” quality to the character helps in forging his peoples’ tragic backstory, which is rooted in the violent enslavement of Mayan Mesoamerica by Spanish conquistadors. But it’s a bit of a shame that Marvel doesn’t really have any options left to introduce new characters, other than to say that they were just lounging around in secret cities. Still, Tenoch Huerta absolutely rips like a chainsaw as Namor. It hardly even matters that he’s just another angry sea man who wants to see the surface world suffer for what it did to the planet’s oceans. When he zips around the air with his ankle wings, is flicked up into battle by killer whales, or even just slowly emerges from the water, it’s game time, baby. James Cameron is undoubtedly kicking himself that Black Panther: The Way of the Water basically happened just a month before the Avatar sequel is set to premiere, big blue people and all.


James Cameron probably isn’t thrilled that Black Panther: Wakanda Forever happened right before Avatar: Way of the Water’s premiere, given the underwater beauty on display here.

Marvel Studios / Disney

Sure, we can wish that Namor’s fishy friends were given the same kind of attention as the vibrant cast in Wakanda, but what’s clear in the sequel is that no amount of evil Doctor Strange variants can elicit as much emotion as Black Panther: Wakanda Forever does when it is as its best. Ludwig Göransson’s musical score? Godly. Autumn Durald Arkapaw’s cinematography? Gorgeous. Ruth Carter’s Academy Award-winning costume design? Another level. Queen Ramonda arrives for a scene at the United Nations like Rihanna was about to perform at the Super Bowl right then and there. Characters gear up for war as Burna Boy, Tems, and Tobe Nwigwe provide the soundtrack for their battles. It doesn’t get more exciting than that.

The monument that fans gave Black Panther was built to withstand Disney content factory pop-insand you can feel the legacy of the original film driving every war cry, action setpiece, music drop, and beautiful Wakandan set design. If every Marvel film had half the heart and joy of Wakanda Forever, we would all be better for it.

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