By Jack Deegan
There was a lot of pressure on the film “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” to be good. Following the critical and commercial success of the academy award-winning and best picture nominated “Black Panther” back in 2018, excitement for the sequel was at an all-time high when it was announced in 2019.
As if that wasn’t enough, the tragic and untimely death of Chadwick Boseman added a whole other layer of pressure on the film. It not only was expected to one-up its predecessor but also provide comfort to a world mourning the loss of a beloved character and actor.
The film follows Shuri (Letitia Wright), Queen Ramonda (Angela Bassett), and the rest of Wakanda as they deal with the tragic loss of King T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman). While the entire country is fighting to protect their newly opened up country from the rest of the world, a new threat from the sea rises in Namor (Tenoch Huerta), after the surface world jeopardizes his hidden country Talokan.
Coming out of the theater I was genuinely speechless. It took me a while to collect my thoughts because of how special a film it is, but I absolutely loved it from start to finish. Despite its runtime of two hours and 41 minutes, the film flew by because of how well it was paced. I am a huge Marvel fan so this was one of my most anticipated films of the year. Yet, somehow, director Ryan Coogler and his team managed to exceed my highest expectations. “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” is a fantastic film about grief that tells an emotional and compelling story from start to finish.
The death of Boseman and King T’Challa is handled in the most respectful way. When he passed away in August 2020 from colon cancer the world was shocked. It was something that he quietly dealt with all while making some of the biggest films of all time. He tragically passed away right before this film was about to start shooting too, so Ryan Coogler and his team decided to rework this movie into a tribute to Boseman and his iconic character.
The entire movie serves as a sendoff for T’Challa, and it really gives the audience time to process what has happened. Showing these characters going through the same thing the audience went through added a lot of emotional weight to the film. I really appreciated everything that was done to honor Boseman and make his presence felt in the film. From the funeral for his character to the theme of the legacy he left behind, you can tell just how important of a person he truly was.
Right away from the opening scene, it’s clear how different “Wakanda Forever” is from the other 30 films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). While it still has those Marvel qualities, “Wakanda Forever” focuses more on telling a self-contained story. The overall narrative of Wakanda versus the world is very compelling and it builds off of the end of the first movie in a natural way. The main conflict of the movie between Namor and Talokan is captivating and done perfectly. Both sides feel like they have a point and are the hero of their own story, which I enjoyed.
The action between the warring factions stands out in a unique way. It’s hard to deliver truly memorable and great action in movies nowadays, but Wakanda and Talokan both have unique styles of combat which makes for some really riveting fight scenes in the film. It feels real and impactful as you see every strike land with a purpose and have an effect on each character.
Tonally, “Wakanda Forever” is a very different movie too, as it focuses more on the serious nature of the story, which causes the audience to feel the weight of it all. There’s some very funny levity interjected throughout the film, but that isn’t the focus at all. The movie spends more time portraying the grief and sadness that each character is struggling with in their own unique ways. It’s a very emotional film too and had me tearing up at three different points.
When it comes to the characters themselves, they each serve an important role and have their own satisfying arcs throughout the movie. Even when adding in more characters from an entirely new hidden country along with those in Wakanda, the film never feels overstuffed.
Shuri serves as the lead for the movie as she’s faced with hardship on every front. She’s in a very different position from where we last saw her and it’s a very interesting direction they’ve taken the character. In the first film, she spends most of her time being a source of comedic relief. Now she’s been forced into this leadership role as she’s still grieving and we get to see a completely different side of her.
Other characters, like Queen Ramonda and Okoye (Danai Gurira), are given more screen time and depth in this movie which is nice to see. Newcomers like Riri Williams (Dominique Thorne) are welcomed additions to the universe.
As for the film’s antagonist Namor, he’s the highlight of the entire movie. He’s entirely justified in his position against the surface world discovering his hidden home which brings some thought-provoking conflict. As one of Marvel’s first characters ever created all the way back in 1939, there was also a lot of pressure introducing him in his live-action debut. While his backstory has been altered from the source material, I think it’s a drastic improvement. Making Namor the ruler of Talokan instead of Atlantis gives us this fresh new culture to explore that never has been in comics or film. It’s a lot more interesting tying his background into real Aztec history and they still do the character justice.
The acting in this movie is absolutely stellar on all fronts. Letitia Wright gives her all in this performance and does a great job showing the weight of her emotions and what she’s going through.
Angela Bassett has such a commanding presence on screen as Queen Ramonda. She handles grief as someone who has lost more than almost anyone and delivers a performance deserving of an Oscar nomination.
Tenoch Huerta delivers a charismatic and intimidating performance as Namor, which really makes you see things from his perspective.
A lot of the credit for this movie goes to Coogler and his creative direction. You can really tell that he was given the reins to make the movie he wanted to. It’s shot in such a beautiful way with every frame looking gorgeous and purposeful. It’s undoubtedly the best-looking MCU movie and has some of the best cinematography of the year.
A huge part of what makes this movie so special comes in its soundtrack and score from Ludwig Göransson. He only ups the ante from his academy award-winning soundtrack on the first film that really enhances every scene it’s a part of — and it can’t be overstated enough how wild it is that Rihanna’s first song in over six years, “Lift Me Up,” is in this movie.
From start to finish, “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” is an entertaining and emotional experience. The heavy subjects of grief and the handling of Boseman’s tragic passing are delivered in a respectful way that is almost therapeutic to watch. The story is full of surprises with Namor as one of the best villains in the entire MCU and is the perfect conclusion to phase 4.
Marvel Studios’ “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” is now playing in theaters.