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Wakanda Forever

Crafting a successful sequel is never an easy task, but the main challenge facing Ryan Coogler and the continuation of the BLACK PANTHER franchise was the heartbreaking fact that the Black Panther himself, Chadwick Boseman, passed away before filming even began. The original film was a revolutionary oddity in the cinematic world, a blockbuster that had plenty to say, and resonated in a way that ventured well beyond on the scope of typical comic-book fare. Part of this was because it didn’t feel like yet another cog in the unstoppable AVENGERS machine (in the same way that recent ventures like DOCTOR STRANGE AND THE MULTIVERSE OF MADNESS or THOR: LOVE AND THUNDER did), but it was also in large part to Boseman’s emotional turn as T’Challa.  

Without its anchor, how could the character, and the BLACK PANTHER world, stay afloat? Additionally, how do you make a movie that sensitively tackles the unexpected loss of its hero, while still finding a way to advance the cinematic universe that it is a part of? 

Coogler’s BLACK PANTHER: WAKANDA FOREVER is an admirable effort that pays respectful homage to Boseman and T’Challa, while also forging ahead towards the future. It never quite delivers in the undeniably powerful and transformative way its predecessor did, but it is as an engaging adventure that excels in ways that the aforementioned Doctor Strange and Thor chapters did not. 

After an illness takes the life of King T’Challa, the people of Wakanda are in mourning.  The Black Panther no longer serves as their protector and Queen Ramonda (Angela Basset) must deal with the fact that the entire world knows of the nation’s existence, and the vibranium that helps power them. The entire world wants a piece of the priceless commodity, and will go to any means necessary to procure it.  

Princess Shuri (Letitia Wright) has taken the loss of her brother as hard as anyone.  She blames herself for not being able to save him, and is keen to let the Black Panther fade into legend. Though she may possess the ability to recreate the powerful heart herb that would provide someone with the power to become the Black Panther, she refuses to do so. She instead wants to focus on technological advances that would help Wakanda grow stronger.

Wakandians have always assumed they were the only keepers of vibranium, but as it turns out, there is another society, deep underwater, that uses the same element. The tribe, lead by Namor (José Tenoch Huerta Mejía) has lived in isolation for hundreds of years. When humanity begins drilling in the oceans in hopes of finding vibranium, Namor approaches the Wakandians in hope of forging an alliance to protect themselves, and crush the human rebellion before it begins. Queen Ramonda and Shuri are reluctant to agree, particularly when the underwater king (who also has wings on his feet and can breathe in the water and on the land) wants to kill a teenage scientist (Dominque Thorne) that developed the technology to hunt for vibranium. Thus begins a war between the two nations, one that could have cataclysmic results for themselves, and the human race. 

The performances of everyone involved help WAKANDA FOREVER rise above any obstacles it faces. Wright, who spends the majority of the movie on the cusp of becoming the new Black Panther has the weight of the world on her shoulders, and carries this tremendous burden with relative ease. The emotions she projects are undeniably genuine, allowing the powerful performer to bring a strong sense of humanity into a production that features a flying fish guy. As Namor, Huerta delivers a star-making turn as a villain who isn’t all bad, but not exactly a hero, either. He is willing to be vulnerable and compassionate, but also isn’t afraid to slay anyone who stands in the way of him or his people. His conflicted nature aids in his development, and the fact that he considers himself a mutant doesn’t exactly hurt in the eventual involvement of the X-Men in the MCU.

With a running-time of over two-and-a-half hours, WAKANDA FOREVER does drag on a bit at times. Some of the action sequences, while entertaining, don’t hit as hard as they used to. The CGI, which is usually a strong suit of this universe, doesn’t hold the same magic as it used to, either. As it did in MUTLTIVERSE OF MADNESS, I found the effects to be distractingly silly on occasion. This time around it was particularly noticeable, given the serious tone of the production. To top it off, the fact that Namor’s people look as if they were an early prototype of characters from AVATAR certainly doesn’t do the film any favors. I found this choice particularly baffling, considering AVATAR has been in production for years, and everyone has known that the sequel was right around the corner. The residents of Pandora far outshine those in BLACK PANTHER  and considering my 13-year-old daughter said as much as the film ended, I know I am not alone in these feelings.  

Flaws aside, WAKANDA FOREVER is a ride worth taking, and while superhero fatigue is starting to rear its head more often than not as of late, it serves its fallen hero well while remaining relevant as an advancement in the MCU.  


(Now Playing in Theaters)

Brian Miller