In one of the most highly anticipated sequels of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, director Ryan Coogler does not disappoint fans with his film Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. I’m keeping this review as vague as possible because I truly want you to experience the film as I did. So, no worries about spoilers here.
In its first 15 minutes, the film has a somber tone, conveying to all that King T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) of Wakanda is dead — his death was written into the story as a result of the real-life passing of actor Boseman. The film tells us that the determining factor in T’Challa’s death was an illness. But Wakanda Forever keeps the circumstances surrounding T’Challa’s death vague — this is not the movie’s focal point. Screenwriters Coogler and Joe Robert Cole offer a rich substantive story that gives Marvel its mojo back.
As the official end to Phase 4, Wakanda Forever is impactful and effective, which is needed for a phase that’s been lackluster with its storytelling. Marvel seemed to have gotten away from itself. Its derivative content is focused more on big-name stars and action sequences and less on plot-driven stories. However, as Phase 5 lurks around the corner, there’s hope that the fabric of MCU narratives still has that richness we’ve all come to know and love since the early days of Iron Man.
The passing of T’Challa is handled with care, grace, and respect. In fact, the studio’s indelible opening features only Boseman with various scenes and moments from his appearances in all the Marvel films. Right off the bat, the viewer can see that this film is a love letter to Chadwick. It’s clear that Coogler gingerly constructed the direction of the memorial scenes with love and compassion. Shuri (Letitia Wright) is informed of T’Challa’s death by her mother, Queen Ramonda (Angela Bassett).
The queen is now serving as a diplomat for Wakanda. Their nation is under threat because of their most valuable resource: vibranium. The natural resource that powers the nation’s economy may be compromised because of world forces that also want to use it for their own self-serving purposes. Shuri’s lab in this sequel is incredibly highly developed. And it’s understandable how that development came to be as Shuri immerses herself in her work in an effort to avoid dealing with her grief.
The Wakandans also are attacked where we, at first glance, see a disguised Aneka (Michaela Coel) dressed as a lab assistant. It turns out she is there as a protector since it is evident that the lab is a hot commodity that needs 24/7 surveillance. But their ability to keep their lab and vibranium intact doesn’t stop a mysterious underwater civilization from emerging from underneath the sea. This community is Talokan, a fictional breakaway underwater civilization descended from an ancient
Mayan community and hidden in the depths of the ocean.
The story gets more complex and complicated when Everett Ross (Martin Freeman) stumbles on some intel about an MIT student named Riri Williams (Dominique Thorne). She has created a device that inadvertently becomes a threat to the lives of the Talokan people, and their king, Namor (Tenoch Huerta), wants her dead.
In this sequel, Wakanda finds itself at war with Talokan. The war of the worlds becomes the core of this movie. There are tertiary elements involved, of course. These include the passing of King T’Challa, the shift of power to Queen Ramonda, and the evolution of Princess Shuri as she has the weight of so many changes on her shoulders, forcing her to grow up fast.
As the final trailer for Black Panther: Wakanda Forever suggests, Shuri does assume the role of the Black Panther. There’s no huge spoiler there, but how and why that happens, I won’t disclose. Wright does an incredible job of depicting a character going through a whirlwind of emotions. From dealing with grief to having moments of levity to embodying strength under pressure, she does it all flawlessly.
Thorne as Riri Williams, aka Ironheart, is truly the comic relief in this film. It’s almost as if she switched roles with Wright as Shuri. In the first film, Shuri served as more of the comic relief opposite a stoic T’Challa. Riri now serves this purpose alongside Shuri.
One of the most comical moments of the movie is when Okoye (Danai Gurira) and Shuri try to apprehend Riri in her dorm room. The trio makes for some great comic relief after the audience endures the heavier moments in the beginning. Ironheart is charming, funny, and charismatic. It’s almost as if Marvel is setting her up to be a mini-me of Tony Stark in this cinematic universe.
According to Cole, Okoye is still loyal, dedicated, and driven. But she’s not infallible. “We see in this film that Okoye starts to journey away from being the staunch traditionalist she was and that we all have known her to be throughout the films,” he says.
There are some surprising cameos in the movie that fans will love, especially fans who love to sew the thread of Marvel TV shows and films together. And there’s an unexpected cameo from a character in the first film, who serves as a voice of reason in Shuri’s consciousness.
The film offers impressive locations and beautiful geography in several countries, and seven languages are spoken. Many of those languages are spoken by our favorite war dog and infiltrator of many nations — Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o). She is now living in Haiti and serves an important purpose in the film and an even greater purpose after the story ends. Without spoiling anything, make sure you stick around after the movie for the mid-credits scene to see how her story arc comes full circle in this universe.
M’Baku (Winston Duke), the ruler of Jabariland, never fails to give us the comedy we need. This is Duke’s assessment of his character in this sequel: “He pressures everything. He pressures everyone. Sometimes, it’s with humor. Sometimes, it’s antagonistic. But at the end of the day, he wants the best for Wakanda, and I think that’s a deeply honorable, powerful thing. He doesn’t mind making enemies if it means protecting his people.”
While I wish we got a little more M’Baku in this film than we did, I can understand why his character was sidelined a bit for this particular story. Perhaps in future sequels, we will get more M’Baku, but for now, he’s still a fan favorite and radiated in every scene.
As for the big bad in this film, Namor, he was one of the most captivating villains we’ve seen in a Marvel Studios movie. He was multifaceted, and Huerta brought a great deal of nuance to the character. This wasn’t a black-or-white villain. It’s a villain with layers and depth and who is conflicted. Much as with Killmonger in Black Panther, Namor’s intentions — albeit dangerous — are for the betterment of his people.
While the antagonism builds between the Wakandans and Talokan, and Namor and Shuri, there is also an underlying boundary of respect between the nations. This complex villainy is exactly what makes a great superhero story. Namor’s henchman Attuma (Alex Livinalli) and henchwoman Namora (Mabel Cadena) give incredible performances in their respective roles. Both are menacing and intimidating, and the viewer has reason to be concerned about the fate of Wakanda with these two heavyweights at Namor’s side.
As I mentioned before, the film was a love letter to Boseman. The movie is beautifully bookended by moments of various scenes with Boseman as a way to remember who he was to this incredible franchise.
When Boseman passed away in 2020, the filmmakers had to take a big step back and really consider what this next story could be. King T’Challa was the heart of Black Panther — and Boseman remains in the hearts of everyone who worked alongside him. In a statement to press, “Chad’s passing affected filmmakers and the actors in a way that was incredibly profound,” says Coogler. “Chad was very much our artistic partner in this project, in this franchise and in this storytelling. I would spend time with him, just he and I, talking about where we wanted to see the character go, where we wanted to see the story go, how much he admired the other characters and the actors that portrayed them. We realized that it would only be right for us to continue the story.”
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is by far the best film in Phase 4 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Phase 5 has a high standard to meet after this one, and hopefully, the storytelling can create the same kind of authenticity and greatness this movie has.
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever premieres in theaters nationwide on November 11, 2022.
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Jamie Broadnax is the creator of the online publication and multimedia space for Black women called Black Girl Nerds. Jamie has appeared on MSNBC's The Melissa Harris-Perry Show and The Grio's Top 100. Her Twitter personality has been recognized by Shonda Rhimes as one of her favorites to follow. She is a member of the Critics Choice Association and executive producer of the Black Girl Nerds Podcast.