Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (Review) – An Honourable Tribute To A Fallen King

DIRECTOR: Ryan Coogler

CAST: Letitia Wright, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Winston Duke, Dominique Thorne, Florence Kasumba, Michaela Coel, Tenoch Huerta Mejía, Martin Freeman, Angela Bassett, Isaach de Bankolé, Dorothy Steel, Danny Sapani, Mabel Cadena, Alex Livinalli

RUNNING TIME: 161 mins

CERTIFICATE: 12A

BASICALLY…: The sudden passing of King T’Challa puts the kingdom of Wakanda at risk…

NOW FOR THE REVIEW…

How does one make a superhero movie without its lead superhero? Such was the daunting task that filmmaker Ryan Coogler had to accomplish, after the unexpected passing of Chadwick Boseman left a Wakanda-sized crater in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. On top of that, the first Black Panther movie wasn’t just a colossal hit with critics and at the box office, it was a cultural phenomenon that brought in a new era of diverse blockbuster filmmaking, and even scored the first Best Picture Oscar nomination for a superhero film – the pressure to make a follow-up worthy of its predecessor already mustn’t have been easy for Coogler, but the death of its lead actor would surely have been the tipping point for anyone in that difficult position.

Coogler, however, is a strong enough creative force to work around the most crucial missing piece of his sequel, titled Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, but rather than sweep it all under the rug and hope that nobody notices, he has woven it in to the narrative in ways that address the situation head-on, and confront the real feelings of grief and loss that many of us felt upon learning of the actor’s death. It makes the film an emotionally resonant entry in the Marvel canon, and a mostly solid capper for its rather uneven Phase Four line-up.

Opening with the news that Boseman’s King T’Challa has died from an undisclosed illness, the African nation of Wakanda is plunged into a state of mourning, as well as uncertainty regarding its own future. As T’Challa’s mother, Queen Ramonda (Angela Bassett), tries to prevent international forces from seizing the opportunity to mine for the nation’s rare vibranium, his sister Shuri (Letitia Wright) – racked with guilt over being unable to help her brother – resigns herself to her tech lab, where she can do more good than harm. However, the royal family is soon visited by Namor (Tenoch Huerta Mejía), the ruler of a hidden underwater kingdom that wishes to wage war against the surface world, and wants Wakanda’s help in their battle; their refusal leads to hostile aggression between the two nations, putting Wakanda and its people at risk unless a new warrior can step forward and become the new Black Panther.

First and foremost, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is a glowing tribute to its fallen hero. Boseman’s absence is certainly felt all throughout, and the wise decision to not re-cast his role allows the filmmakers to mourn and remember the actor while also carrying on the legacy that he and his character left behind. The nobility and steadfastness that T’Challa brought to his all-too brief run in the MCU is upheld by characters within this very movie, from the rather powerful turn by Angela Bassett’s grieving Queen, to the sly and confident swagger that Letitia Wright brings to her Shuri, while Coogler manages to weave in plenty of respectful nods to his late star in the script that he once again co-writes with Joe Robert Cole. The character’s death is handled very well by this cast and crew, landing on all of the correct emotional notes and letting the audience grieve for Boseman along with them in appropriately solemn ways.

The rest of the film also manages to work as a solid sequel, continuing to flesh out this fascinating corner of the MCU while also branching out into newer domains, like the underwater kingdom of Talokan (re-named from Atlantis in the comics) that boasts plenty of gorgeous Mayan-inspired designs and a formidable, if fantastical, representation of Incan culture. There’s more time spent with characters that we’ve come to know and like over their many appearances in the MCU, like Danai Gurira’s ever-cool General Okoye and “Tolkien white guy” Martin Freeman’s Everett Ross, and there are good introductions to newer ones like Dominique Thorne’s young inventor Riri Williams – soon to headline her own Disney+ show with Ironheart – and Tenoch Huerta Mejía as Namor, an intimidating antagonist who still manages to have his own sense of charisma and menace, even when he has little wings attached to his heels (I promise you, it’s not as silly as it sounds). Coogler’s filmmaking also continues to be on point, with some ambitious one-take scenes that carry suspense even when you know how a certain scenario is going to end, which along with some smooth cinematography by Autumn Durald Arkapaw makes it just as much a treat for the eyes as the emotional material is to the soul.

However, there are times when the film threatens to buckle under its own weight. Running over two-and-a-half hours, there is a lot of plot that makes it longer than it probably needs to be, with many characters whose roles are either reduced for time or mostly cast to the side-lines (franchise newcomer Michaela Coel, of I May Destroy You fame, is at first introduced like a main character, only for her to disappear completely until much later on). For those with less of an attention span, it can become easy for the mind to wander, because there are sections – particularly in the middle – that are rather slow-paced, and while you appreciate that this is the rare Marvel movie that actually spends a significant amount of time on developing the drama rather than be bogged down in superhero action, one wonders if more of it could have been put in the place of some slower moments, just to make it feel like things are progressing more than they are.

For the most part, though, there are more strengths to Black Panther: Wakanda Forever than there are weaknesses. As a follow-up to a real milestone of superhero representation, it does well to expand on its characters and worlds while also adding a genuine emotional side that makes you empathise and identify with everything even more than last time. More importantly, though, it honours a real Marvel hero by continuing his passion and dedication to the material, which is what he most likely would have wanted. Chadwick Boseman, and King T’Challa, may be gone, but their spirit lives on from Wakanda all the way down to the Quantum Realm (which, incidentally, is our next stop on the theatrical Marvel tour).

SO, TO SUM UP…

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is a solid superhero sequel that continues to expand on its world and characters, not to mention serving as a truly touching and honourable tribute to the late Chadwick Boseman, and while it sometimes threatens to buckle under its own weight, there’s enough to respect and admire about it as a noble continuation.

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is now showing in cinemas nationwide – click here to find a screening near you!

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