Black Panther: Wakanda Forever
Reviewed for Shockya.com by Abe Friedtanzer
Director: Ryan Coogler
Writer: Ryan Coogler and Joe Robert Cole
Cast: Letitia Wright, Lupita Nyong’o, Angela Bassett, Martin Freeman, Danai Gurira, Winston Duke, Tenoch Huerta Mejía, Michaela Coel, Dominique Thorne, Riri Williams, Florence Kasumba
Screened at: DGA Theater, LA, 11/14/22
Opens: November 11th, 2022
Making a sequel to an immensely popular, boundary-breaking film is no easy feat. That challenge is complicated even further when its star dies at a tragically young age from cancer. Yet Black Panther: Wakanda Forever mostly delivers, inviting audiences on another awe-inspiring visit to the kingdom of Wakanda and showing how its faction of the Marvel Cinematic Universe has managed to maintain a singular energy that in particular pays tribute to the characters and nation it has built.
Rather than recast the role of T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) or keep him alive for a portion of the film, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever opens on his sister Shuri (Letitia Wright) trying desperately to save him only to find out that he has already died. His passing is felt throughout Wakanda and the world, which sees the protector-less hidden nation as vulnerable to attack and exploitation of their precious resource, vibranium. Yet the primary threat that Wakanda faces comes instead from a blue-skinned people that live underwater in the kingdom of Talokan, who see Wakanda as a potential ally – or a potential enemy – in their theoretical future fight against the surface world.
There is no shortage of action to be found in this sequel, which runs nearly half an hour longer than its predecessor. The combat skills of the Dora Milaje royal guard remain quite impressive, and they are featured prominently once again. Yet the truly grand visual spectacle comes from the creation of Talokan, an underwater empire that rivals Wakanda for its combination of classical elements and technological innovations. There is a hypnotic nature to the scenes in which Talokan is featured and the backstory of its king, Namor (Tenoch Huerta Mejía), is revealed.
Bringing back fan favorite characters from the first film works well, starting with Shuri, Queen Mother Ramonda (Angela Bassett), Okoye (Danai Gurira), M’Baku (Winston Duke), and Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o). Marvel devotees with an interest in the larger universe beyond Wakanda will appreciate seeing Everett Ross (Martin Freeman) and Valentina Allegra de Fontaine (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) in a film that mostly stands separate from the overarching superhero world. Very worthwhile new additions include whiz kid Riri (Dominique Thorne), soldier Aneka (Michaela Coel), and Huerta. Additional supporting players populate an ensemble with no weak links and plenty of amusing and memorable brief appearances.
While Black Panther: Wakanda Forever represents a perfectly solid sequel effort, it would be difficult for it to top the resoundingly-received original. Its inability to do so is tied in part to Boseman’s absence, since he was a key figure whose story was certainly worth continuing. Yet screenwriters Ryan Coogler and Joe Robert Cole deserve immense credit for pivoting and creating something new that manages to honor Boseman’s legacy and T’Challa’s all at once and still tell an engaging and worthwhile story. Shuri is a suitable replacement protagonist, and seeing her embrace her identity as the intellectual leader of Wakanda is invigorating.
The technical elements in this film all enhance the overall experience, and building an entirely new world in Talokan is no small feat. The visual effects, costumes, and production design all contribute to a massive undertaking that makes Wakanda and Talokan feel real and lived-in, emphasizing minor touches that are seen only fleetingly as the citizens of both nations prepare to defend their homes from incursion. Thematically, the film deals with imperialism and colonialism in thought-provoking ways, playing with whether characters should be considered villains or heroes depending on the context and the justification of their motivations. This franchise will surely continue, and this installment indicates productive promise for its future.
Story – B
Acting – B+
Technical – B+
Overall – B