Long live the king of Wakanda.
The somber message opening Black Panther: Wakanda Forever comes as swift yet crushing as it gets. And it’s a reminder that Mr. Chadwick Boseman, one of the genuine stars under Marvel’s labored storytelling, was poised to do amazing things following Avengers: Endgame for his character as T’Challa. Unfortunately, his time was cut abruptly, leaving the fate of the MCU and Black Panther series in shambles as Kevin Feige and director Ryan Coogler had to clamber for a new path while holding back tears alongside the rest of the world.
It’s a stark reminder that every ending has a beginning. And in this case, the show shall go on with a new adventure in the Wakandan world and how its decisions will produce significant consequences. Consequently, there seems to be a paradox behind said statement as it illuminates the difficult position the sequel was put into after its predecessor in 2018 stole the show, attained awards, and provided much-needed revitalization to the evergrowing Marvel Cinematic Universe. The Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy can also attest to this sentiment. All set new bars for the superhero universe at the cinema and created higher expectations progressing onward. The concerns started to develop as Age of Ultron developed trends of “superhero fatigue,” and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 didn’t add much other than father issues and more songs. Black Panther: Wakanda Forever doesn’t resonate in the same narrative manner as its predecessor, even if the absence of its lead does make the heart grow fonder.
The story starts with the death of T’Challa, as his sister Shuri (Letitia Wright) fails to save him and she stands comforted by her mother, Queen Ramonda (Angela Bassett). A year later, both reminisce over his absence when a mysterious, imposing superhuman appears from the water with pointed ears and wings on his ankles. He introduces himself as Namor (Tenoch Huerta), who shocks both by claiming their nation is not the only one to utilize the all-powerful vibranium as he protects the underwater, metallic world of Talocan. He asks for assistance in finding an American scientist named Riri (Dominique Thorne), who invented a device that can discover vibranium, so he can kill her and keep Talocan’s existence a secret.
When Shuri and Okoye (Danai Gurira) find the nineteen-year-old girl, the feds appear, and a chain of events occurs where Shuri learns of Namor’s history and uncovers his homestead. It lures out the presence of Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o), who has been hiding in Haiti for six years, and CIA Agent Ross (Martin Freeman), trying to aid Wakanda yet coming under fire from his ex-wife Valentina Allegra de Fontaine (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) doing more ridiculous stunts to engage in a potential world war. Eventually, it leads to a battle between the nations of Wakanda and Talocan over sovereignty and their involvement with the outside world.
The story Coogler contends with is unwieldy and odd and sometimes contains thrilling and saddening aspects. To concur, Wakanda Forever was put into an awful predicament because of Boseman’s passing, which left many questions about how it could contain such a blow. The film is a spectacle and elegy, blurring the lines of tragedies on/off the screen and forged by a narrative of loss and grief. However, it’s a testament to its paucity, as the storytelling has multiple complications regarding Namor’s backstory and the U.N. and CIA involvement. Obviously, Kevin Feige knows some of these aspects will be saved for a connection two years from now, but melded together, in this case, becomes vexing. Add in the 161-minute runtime, and a lot of the sequel feels superfluous in trying to spread the message about loss yet juggle the political/social ramifications. What made the first work so well was its simplistic measure of integrating political subtext into Wakanda’s isolationism and how the antagonist shook the atmosphere with a compelling (and justifiable) context. The tumultuous turns this sequel makes are staggering and questionable.
Fortunately, the second chapter balances this issue with its stellar cast, visuals, and action-packed sequences. Wright proves to be more than a spunky supporting character and juices her character with grief and rage in the face of her brother’s death, and Bassett commands the screen with subtle anguish and fury, aware of her moral authority and obligations as the weight of her family and nation bear before her. Huerta stars with venom in his presence and voice, and Nyong’o, Gurira, and Winston Duke’s M’Baku are the glue that holds it together. It becomes evident they stepped up with visuals this time after the egregious showcase in the predecessor, and the action maintains a fun showcase (even if the cross-cutting is overkill).
One fascinating aspect that came to life in this feature was the dynamic between Wakanda and Talocan. The cultural, mythological dynamic raises awareness regarding race and allyship between Indigenous, Blacks, and Latin Americans. It seems fitting to applaud Coogler and Co. for expanding beautifully in the design/costume department and topping it off with some arresting musical notes throughout the movie. Much like its predecessor, a win for representation is a win for all.
Nevertheless, the Black Panther series stands most potent when it refrains from the usage of ongoing interconnected universe elements and lures us back in with its vibrant atmosphere and aesthetics. Even if this sequel does not come to par with its predecessor’s roots, it still should be commended for its ambition and genuine remembrance of Mr. Boseman’s contributions. The deftness and performance of this feature trucks it past the mediocre outings of Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness and Thor: Love and Thunder from earlier this year.
Assuredly, that is not to say Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is perfect. But, it channels loss into provocative artistry and stands out from the formulaic era of recent Marvel hits suitably.
(Once again, Rest in Peace to Chadwick Boseman, and a massive thank you for his efforts.)