Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is one of the most impressive films in the entire MCU and a fitting end to a chapter exploring grief and how it can transform us.
*This review contains minor spoilers for the film.*
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever represents the end of Phase Four of the MCU, the thirtieth film in the largest franchise ever to grace the movie industry. It’s a phase of the MCU that has been divisive, as some have reveled in the dedication to diversity, as female directors and non-white protagonists abound. Others have criticized its lack of unity and the sheer number of projects that have been released in a short period of time.
With a few notable missteps (Multiverse of Madness, I’m looking at you), Phase 4 has excelled at examining grief and how different characters, both new and familiar, cope with it. In WandaVision, Wanda’s trauma led her to create her own fantasy reality. In Falcon and the Winter Soldier, Sam and Bucky dealt very differently with Steve’s loss. In Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, a mother’s death tore a family apart. In Hawkeye, Yelena and Clint struggled to move on after Natasha’s death. Marvel has taken a largely empathetic and complex view of how grief affects us all.
And thus, Wakanda Forever is the perfect closing to this chapter as it pays a beautiful tribute to Chadwick Boseman and his fictional counterpart, T’Challa. From a special Marvel logo to a funeral for the fictional king, his essence permeates the movie in a way that feels respectful to him while also recognizing the character’s death and acknowledging the mourning of his castmates for their friend.
Wakanda Forever is the sequel to 2018’s Black Panther, a film that was praised for its value even outside of the MCU and was notably the first Marvel movie to earn a nomination for the Oscar for Best Picture. Ryan Coogler has returned to direct, co-writing the screenplay with Joe Robert Cole. He brings the same care and thoughtfulness to this film, even if it doesn’t quite reach the Shakespearean heights of the first.
The film opens as Shuri (Letitia Wright) is in her lab, frantically trying to synthetically recreate the heart-shaped herb that Killmonger destroyed in the previous film. She believes that if she succeeds, she may be able to save the life of her brother, who is dying from a disease. However, she isn’t able to solve the complex scientific equation in time and is devastated by her brother’s death. Through the beautiful funeral sequence, she withdraws further and further into herself, consumed by guilt that she could not save her beloved older brother.
The film then propels forward a year to see Queen Ramonda (Angela Bassett) deliver a stirring speech to the United Nations, criticizing them for attempting to steal Wakanda’s vibranium to use as a weapon while complaining that Wakanda has not fulfilled its promises to open up to the rest of the world. However, a greater threat to Wakandan peace is on the horizon.
When strange, blue creatures attack the American team using a new vibranium detector to locate an underwater vibranium deposit, the government is ready to blame the Wakandans. However, these are actually the Talokans, lead by Namor (Tenoch Huerta). He breaches Wakandan security to ask Ramonda and Shuri for help protecting vibranium from the rest of the world, threatening the safety of their country if they refuse. He’s a worthy opponent for the brave women of Wakanda, as his powers are largely unknown.
Talokan is an ancient civilization, clearly Mayan in origin, that was decimated by the Spanish conquistadors’ introduction of smallpox in the 1570s. Much like the scene in the museum in the first Black Panther film, the explanation of Namor’s backstory does not hold back on its criticism of colonization. The people of this nation found an herb that allowed them to breathe underwater, moving their kingdom to the bottom of the ocean, safely away from the reach of the rest of the world – until they have started searching for vibranium.
Much like Killmonger in the first film, Namor is a sort of ‘right motives, wrong execution’ villain, which makes the fight against him much more interesting. Okoye (Danai Gurira) convinces Ramonda to let Shuri accompany her to the United States, where they meet with CIA agent Everett K. Ross (Martin Freeman) to attempt to find the scientist who invented the vibranium-detecting machine.
This search leads us to Cambridge, Massachusetts where Riri Williams (Dominique Thorne) is an extraordinarily gifted young student. The interactions between her and Shuri provide much humor but also comfort as Shuri has finally found someone who can match her brilliant mind. It’s a great introduction for Ironheart into the MCU, blending seamlessly into the film’s storyline without feeling forced and giving her more to do than Spider-Man had in Captain America: Civil War.
There are a handful of cameos in the film, but none that feel too contrived. One is clearly setting up a future Marvel property, but the actress has so much fun that the audience does too. As the film continues, Shuri must decide how far she’s willing to go to save her country and if she’s willing to step up and take on the Black Panther mantle.
The film is impeccable from a technical standpoint, with great sound work, hair and makeup, costumes, and score. The underwater scenes are impressive (Avatar: Way of Water, watch out!), and some of the action scenes are very unique, particularly for their involvement of said water. Some, however, are hard to follow and visually confusing.
But, for all that the technical work is commendable, it is the performances that are at the heart of Wakanda Forever. Wright (despite her off-screen controversies) gives a beautiful lead performance, proving herself fully capable of being one of the main players of the MCU going forward. Bassett, Lupita N’yongo (returning as Nakia), and Winston Duke (returning as M’Baku) all do impressive work, but it’s Gurira who is the MVP of the cast. As the head of the Dora Milaje, certainly inspired by the Agojie warriors seen onscreen this year in The Woman King, she is faced with defeat for the first time that we’ve seen and must find it within herself to rise to the challenge.
Coogler and Wright had their work cut out for them in making Wakanda Forever. They needed to honor Boseman’s passing, move Black Panther into the next phase of the MCU, and make a film that both could exist inside of and outside of the MCU as a whole. But just as Shuri must push past her grief and her loss to become the leader that Wakanda needs, Coogler and Wright rose to the challenge. Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is one of the most impressive films in the entire MCU and a fitting end to a chapter exploring grief and how it can transform us.
Likely: Best Sound, Best Visual Effects, Best Hair & Makeup, Best Costume Design, Best Production Design, Best Original Song
Should be Considered: Best Score, Best Supporting Actress (Angela Bassett)
Release Date: November 11, 2022
Where to Watch: In Theaters
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Favorite Directors: Kenneth Branagh and Greta Gerwig
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