The sudden passing of Chadwick Boseman was among the biggest shocks to the movie industry in 2020. Boseman had skyrocketed to mainstream fame just four years before, portraying the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s iconic African superhero, Black Panther, a role he had played since 2016’s Captain America: Civil War, ultimately headlining just one solo vehicle, 2018’s Black Panther, before his untimely death. On top of the innate sadness of losing such a wonderful talent so quickly and so young, the MCU also found itself in a bit of a tight spot following Boseman’s death, as the previously-planned Black Panther sequel, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, had already entered production.

Nevertheless, Marvel Studios, along with the returning cast and crew of Black Panther, insisted that the late Boseman would want the franchise to continue, and so it has. Still, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever faces more challenges than most any MCU project to come before it; It has to serve as an appropriate tribute to Boseman, while passing the franchise’s title role to another character, while living up to the stellar legacy of the previous Black Panther movie, and all while continuing to make its own previously-conceived contributions to the ever-expanding MCU canon. It’s entirely too much to ask of any one sequel, and that makes it all the more rewarding when Black Panther: Wakanda Forever does manage to successfully deliver, in spite of its many creative challenges.

Despite the herculean endeavour of having to sharply pivot the MCU’s Black Panther franchise toward a new headlining presence, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever still manages to be arguably 2022’s strongest MCU movie, easily outclassing the rather alienating Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, and the functional, but somewhat boilerplate Thor: Love and Thunder. As a final offering for the MCU’s frustratingly uneven Phase Four in particular, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever manages to elevate itself, thanks to its emotionally-charged storytelling, its complex themes of grief vs. duty, and its standout antagonists, all culminating in a fresh and exciting, if formerly unplanned new era for the Black Panther and Wakanda.

THE KING IS DEAD. LONG LIVE THE PANTHER!

Despite all the talk of multiverses and mutants, one of the biggest questions surrounding the MCU throughout this year is who would ultimately succeed Chadwick Boseman as the MCU’s Black Panther. Marvel Studios adamantly refused to recast T’Challa, after all, instead writing Boseman’s real-world death into the storyline of Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, as the movie begins with T’Challa succumbing to an unspecified illness. This leaves Wakanda without leadership during a critical time in the post-Blip era, as the former Black Panther’s seemingly rudderless nation suddenly finds its Vibranium reserves coveted by the world at large, particularly in the still-traumatic wake of Thanos’ attack.

The specter of Boseman’s real-world passing amazingly doesn’t end up being a crutch to Black Panther: Wakanda Forever though. If anything, the clever and poignant tributes to Boseman’s legacy give this sequel a lot of heightened emotional impact, as the characters of Wakanda reflect the grief of audiences and friends of Boseman in the real world. Wakanda may not be as weak as it appears to be to outside nations, but it’s clear that the kingdom is still struggling to move on without T’Challa. Even the Black Panther itself is eventually viewed as something of a relic among Wakanda’s surviving citizens and monarchy, as Angela Bassett’s Queen Ramonda thanklessly takes Wakanda’s throne in time to field the selfish advances of rival nations, while T’Challa’s sister, Shuri plugs away at more tech-based pet projects, constantly anxious about the state of her home.

It’s definitely a bold move to make a superhero movie sequel that actively pushes its titular mantle into the background for most of its lengthy duration. Even with this movie clocking in at nearly three hours long, the new Black Panther doesn’t ultimately reveal themselves until Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is moving into its climax. Regardless, this allows for a wonderful opportunity to put all of Wakanda’s many fan-favourite secondary characters into leading roles. Despite the devastating loss felt from Boseman’s passing, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever still manages to thrive as an ensemble piece, with no central character exclusively occupying the story’s perspective. That’s a great thing, considering how many amazing supporting characters debuted in the original Black Panther, particularly among its robust female cast, with Black Panther: Wakanda Forever managing to soar as the most empowering female-fronted MCU movie to date.

Angela Bassett and Letitia Wright beautifully shoulder most of the incredible dramatic weight behind Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, with Bassett in particular delivering an Oscar-worthy performance as the dignified, but grief-stricken Queen Ramonda. Lupita Nyong’o and Danai Gurira also take their returning characters to exciting new places, as Nakia and Okoye both achieve their own unexpected evolutions in the wake of losing their king. Nyong’o’s overdue return as Nakia feels especially heartfelt here, as she becomes the unexpected arms of comfort for T’Challa’s struggling family, despite becoming estranged from her home nation since the Blip. There’s a brilliant transcendence of fiction achieved as T’Challa’s loss is ultimately carried by the friends and family he left behind, with the question of whether the Black Panther should continue at all being boldly challenged, thus allowing Wakanda and its citizens to organically find their way to appointing a new protector, right when they need them most.

THE SUB-MARINER STRIKES!

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever may be a quieter, more meditative production when compared to the majority of MCU offerings, but even as Wakanda mourns its fallen king, the threats to the nation don’t sleep. Those threats achieve a terrifying new level of menace after the world’s Vibranium obsession eventually provokes the wrath of the underwater kingdom, Talokan, itself a rich repository of Vibranium on par with Wakanda. Despite its equal levels of prosperity and isolation, Talokan is much less noble than Wakanda to boot, quickly making short work of its human pillagers, before turning its attention to Wakanda, another Vibranium-rich nation that could just as easily serve as friend or foe.

Talokan, serving as a stand-in for Marvel Comics’ Atlantis (no doubt to avoid comparisons to DC’s Aquaman movie franchise), also happens to be headed up by a very powerful ruler, Namor, hailed by his underwater kingdom as K’uk’ulkan, a Mayan serpent god rooted in real-world Mesoamerican mythology. As one of the oldest Marvel characters, one that existed before the Marvel Universe itself had even been pioneered in the 1960’s, Namor’s long history in Marvel Comics is a fascinating one, ranging from the character being a heroic Avenger to a ruthless villain, and everything in between. Somehow, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever manages to effectively adapt that rich, longstanding nuance of character within one movie as well, with Namor serving as the main antagonist of this sequel, but not in a way that truly paints him as a villain.

“Despite the devastating loss felt from Boseman’s passing, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever still manages to thrive as an ensemble piece.”

Namor’s journey to the big screen has been a challenging one, considering that the character had been completely off-limits to Marvel Studios throughout most of the MCU’s tenure, due to Universal controlling his movie rights until recently. Thus, Namor had to make a big splash (pun not intended) for his first appearance in the MCU, and fortunately, Tenoch Huerta Mejia, making his blockbuster debut in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, is more than up to that task. Huerta Mejia’s Namor is not afraid to get his hands dirty, brutally dispatching Wakanda’s warriors, and any who would trespass in his waters, with uncompromising barbarity. He also happens to be one of the strongest earthbound characters in the MCU at this point, boasting strength, speed and stamina on par with Thor, while also being able to fly due to his winged ankles, a side effect of his being one of the first confirmed mutants in the MCU, a fact Namor proudly boasts at one point while recounting his backstory.

For all his staggering might and outward savagery however, there’s also a nobility, and even a sense of beauty behind Namor in the MCU. He has spent hundreds of years building and caring for Talokan, alongside his cousin, Namora, played by Mabel Cadena, and his lieutenant, Attuma, played by Alex Livinalli, and by all accounts, Namor is seen as a just and benevolent ruler to his people. It’s also refreshing that Namor’s motivations aren’t rooted in the same old cliched environmental rhetoric, with Namor’s centuries-long life instead being marked by the witnessing of humanity’s more personal failures, most notably disease and slavery. This is also helped by the fact that the Talokans descended from regular humans, giving them a necessary link to the surface world that in turn heightens both the pathos and the tragedy related to Namor eventually being motivated to declare war on humankind, with Wakanda as his first stop.

Yet despite Namor being another excellent antagonist for the MCU, and easily one of the overall best written and performed characters in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, Talokan itself doesn’t quite manage to reach that same pedigree. It feels like audiences are ultimately only given a surface examination of Namor’s kingdom in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, perhaps with more ambitious conflicts and histories within Talokan being deliberately held back for an inevitable Black Panther sequel, or a Namor-centered spin-off. Attuma and Namora are particularly thinly-characterized here, being completely overshadowed by their ruler, and merely serving as henchmen that keep furthering Namor’s agenda, while further racking up this movie’s body count. It’s a shame, because this major new underwater sector of the MCU is depicted with its own share of sharp imagination and artistry. Despite its strong first impression in this continuity however, Talokan so far lacks the same imaginative novelty that Wakanda achieved in 2018’s original Black Panther movie, or indeed the imaginative novelty achieved by Atlantis in DC’s competing Aquaman movie from that same year.

THE SIGHTS AND SOUNDS OF WAKANDA

With music and sound being such a huge part of 2018’s original Black Panther, it should come as no surprise that Black Panther: Wakanda Forever remains one of the biggest auditory standouts you can enjoy in theatres this year. Ludwig Goransson reprises his role as this sequel’s composer, overseeing another breathtaking soundtrack that’s packed with authentic African instrumentation, from vocal chants to drums to woodwinds, and even a new tie-in single, “Lift Me Up”, by Rihanna. It all sounds fantastic, continuing to cultivate one of the most rich and fascinating musical selections in the MCU, with the compositions themselves becoming a character in their own right once again, as Wakanda leaps to life with so much of its history and personality captured in sound.

Wakanda’s visual design also remains creative and exciting amidst the fictional nation’s return in 2022, even as the kingdom tries to forge a new path in the wake of T’Challa’s death. Shuri’s tinkering in particular creates more exotic machinery that continues to highlight Wakanda’s unimaginable technical superiority over the rest of the world, an Afrofuturist dreamscape that remains rich with with pure imagination. Even as the franchise’s tone becomes more somber and introspective, given this sequel’s real-world tragedy during production, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever earns its stripes as an expensive MCU blockbuster, refusing to compromise its creative identity even during its many quieter moments, as the idyllic technical landscape of Wakanda continues to carry it through an era of quiet, morose uncertainty.

In fact, it’s almost a little jarring when it comes time for Black Panther: Wakanda Forever’s obligatory CG-heavy climax, which suddenly thrusts this sequel into fulfilling its expected mandate as a popcorn crowd-pleaser. Granted, this sequel always looks outstanding, but through having to balance a tearful farewell to its former lead actor on top of the same superhero spectacle that Marvel’s legion of True Believers are paying for with any MCU movie, it’s to be expected that Black Panther: Wakanda Forever can’t always fully balance its technical ambitions with its dramatic ones. At worst, this can create a few spots of tonal confusion, as Black Panther: Wakanda Forever sometimes swings wildly between being a very personal story of grief and moving on, while simultaneously trying to pop eyeballs as a fun, light-hearted superhero spectacle.

Fortunately, these awkward tonal moments don’t manage to be too common. Hell, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever even manages to earn its hefty 161-minute runtime, easily holding viewer interest, even as its scale balloons to a potentially overwhelming degree. A lot of this is due to returning director, Ryan Coogler’s reliably exemplary direction, as Coogler constantly appears to be challenging himself to craft fresh new spins on the action and world-building, especially with Talokan. Talokan’s battle tactics, which include vertical fight scenes on rappels, grappling ropes that are strong enough to stop helicopters in their tracks, and even ethereal siren songs that compel humans to jump into the water and drown themselves (perhaps the freakiest weapon that a Marvel movie has depicted in some time!), are all a wonder to behold for sure, even if they are sometimes at odds with the inconsistent scope of events unfolding both in and around Wakanda.

THE CRUEL WORLD BEYOND THE SEA

The bulk of Black Panther: Wakanda Forever may take place within Wakanda and Talokan, leaving it without much of a link to the wider MCU for the most part, though the politics of the post-Blip world do still manage to come into play in fairly clever fashion. Martin Freeman’s Everett Ross returns in this follow-up to start, now serving at the CIA under the freshly-appointed Valentina Allegra de Fontaine, with Julia Louis-Dreyfus yet again returning to this increasingly pivotal MCU role, in her continued quest to basically become the MCU’s new Nick Fury. There’s another amusing connection established between these two characters here as well, as they become government spectators to the growing unrest in Wakanda, all the while oblivious to the existence of Talokan, let alone the threat it poses.

This gives Freeman and Louis-Dreyfus the job of providing the bulk of comic relief in this otherwise pensive sequel, while keeping the fallout from Wakanda’s and Talokan’s conflict from becoming too far removed from reality. These scenes are where Black Panther: Wakanda Forever most openly influences the future development of the MCU as well, even if it primarily means continuing to flirt with Marvel Studios’ upcoming 2024 event movie, Thunderbolts above all else, along with the seemingly inevitable Namor-fronted projects that Marvel Studios are no doubt already dreaming up.

“For all his staggering might and outward savagery however, there’s also a nobility, and even a sense of beauty behind Namor in the MCU.”

Likewise, the introduction of Dominique Thorne’s Riri Williams, a.k.a. Ironheart in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever helps to provide another likable American perspective within Wakanda’s plight. Thorne is already set to reprise her role as the lead in an Ironheart Disney+ series next year, and fortunately, her first impression is a pretty good one, even if she does spend most of this sequel as a living macguffin. While she lacks her connection to Tony Stark/Iron Man from Marvel Comics at this point to boot, Riri nonetheless cements herself as a likable young genius in the MCU, more or less combining Tom Holland’s Spider-Man and Letitia Wright’s Shuri into one character. This makes Riri feel like a natural fit for the hi-tech world of Wakanda, and though she stands as yet another transparent tease for future MCU projects, she still carries enough humour and action-packed appeal in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever to make her presence more welcome in this blockbuster than you might initially expect.

POST-CREDITS SCENES AND OTHER NOTES

(NOTE: The ‘Spoiler’ section, when clicked, discusses whether Black Panther: Wakanda Forever has any post-credits scenes, whether it features any additional Marvel characters of note, and whether it sets up any future MCU projects.)

Spoiler
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is a bit of a departure from the majority of MCU blockbusters, since it only features one mid-credits scene, and no post-credits scene, other than the expected promise that, “Black Panther will Return.” The movie’s lone mid-credits scene picks up with Shuri, having taken up the mantle of Wakanda’s new Black Panther, visiting Nakia in Haiti, while finally stopping to properly mourn her dead brother, T’Challa. It’s at this point that Nakia introduces Shuri to her formerly unknown son, also named T’Challa, whom she secretly conceived with the original T’Challa back when he was alive. T’Challa II has since been hidden with Nakia in Haiti, seemingly born during the Blip (subtly indicating that Nakia managed to survive Thanos’ Snap), because Nakia feels that her son is best off enjoying his childhood without the burden of Wakanda’s throne. Meeting her nephew then moves Shuri to tears, as she sees that not only does her late brother’s spirit live on in a son, but that the throne of Wakanda will eventually be secured again, once T’Challa II can come of age, thus also ensuring that the line of the Black Panther will similarly live on past her.

With such limited emphasis on future MCU teases, it might also be predictable that Black Panther: Wakanda Forever doesn’t introduce any unexpected Marvel personalities into the MCU, nor does it directly tease any future projects beyond the Black Panther franchise with its resolution. There are some subtle hints dropped regarding where a potential third Black Panther movie could go, as a tense peace is ultimately achieved between Wakanda and Talokan, but contrary to rumour, there are no scenes teasing the Fantastic Four or the X-Men, nor is there any concrete indication of how the Vibranium struggle that serves as the inciting incident of Black Panther: Wakanda Forever may influence future storylines in the MCU.

THE VERDICT

Like a threatened and strained Wakanda after losing its king, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever boldly stands against its many obstacles, and manages to skillfully overcome almost all of them. Easily one of the most emotionally hefty blockbusters that the MCU has delivered to date, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever can’t always smoothly transition between spectacular Talokan battles and heart-wrenching grief over the death of this franchise’s former lead, but considering how very full its narrative plate is, it still achieves greatness as an especially strong MCU sequel.

Granted, the earth-shattering novelty of 2018’s original Black Panther is a virtually impossible act to follow, one that Talokan’s introduction doesn’t quite manage to replicate with quite as much awe. Still, even if Talokan’s best MCU stories appear to be ahead of it at this point, Tenoch Huerta Mejia quickly becomes a highlight as Namor, another of the MCU’s overall best antagonists, and one that actually manages to succeed Michael B. Jordan’s brilliant Killmonger as another standout threat to Wakanda, and the MCU at large.

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is often strongest when it’s paying tribute to the late Chadwick Boseman over checking the expected boxes of an MCU movie, but it’s nonetheless heartwarming to see this stellar MCU franchise pick itself up so courageously, even after the death of its lead star. Much like a real-world journey of grief, you’ll still laugh through the tears, and cheer through the blows, inspired by the fortitude of a nation, and an ideal that’s bigger than any one man, one that will be carried into the future by a new generation, and one that doesn’t forget, but will always endure.

Wakanda Forever, indeed.

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever Review
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever succeeds as an ambitious MCU sequel, and a heartfelt tribute to the late Chadwick Boseman, one that triumphantly carries the franchise into a bold new era.
CHARACTERS90%
PLOT85%
DIRECTION90%
MUSIC & SOUNDTRACK100%
VISUAL EFFECTS95%
THE GOOD STUFF
  • Loving tribute to the legacy of T'Challa and his late actor
  • Namor is a brilliantly complex antagonist
  • Spectacle and soundtrack remain outstanding
THE NOT-SO-GOOD STUFF
  • Struggles to balance the tone at times
  • Talokan isn't as effectively fleshed out as Wakanda
92%Overall Score
Reader Rating: (0 Votes)
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