‘Black Panther: Wakanda Forever’ Review

Bold strokes can’t stave off Marvel fatigue

Shoutout to Marvel Studios for continuing with the Black Panther storyline following the death of actor Chadwick Boseman, who tragically succumbed to cancer in 2020. It would have been so easy for the cinema juggernaut to simply relegate any of the Black Panther characters to side roles in other mainline films, but instead, they put Letitia Wright (who has played sister Shuri to Boseman’s T’Challa since the start) front and center in a tale about family, responsibility and international/sub-aquatic power dynamics. The results, unfortunately, are mixed.

Director Ryan Coogler (Creed) confronts Boseman’s death head-on in the film’s early moments, showcasing Shuri’s tragic and all-too-logical response to the world around her. Here, Wakanda Forever hits some of its best emotional heights—including a Boseman-specific intro reel—but it all goes downhill pretty fast.

In the wake of T’Challa’s death, leadership from around the globe wants in on the fictional country of Wakanda’s greatest resource, a magic-adjacent space metal known as vibranium. Taking over the country for her son, the queen, Ramonda (Angela Bassett, who wrings out the best performance by far), offers a kind, “Yeah, no thanks,” in response, leading to tense relations across the board.

Meanwhile, the amphibious underwater prince, Namor (Tenoch Huerta Mejía), reveals himself to the Wakandans. He, too, has vibranium, it seems, and his plan is to kill anyone interested in that before they come for him. Explosions become imminent.

Elsewhere, at the periphery, find capable turns featuring warrior Okoye (an always badass Danai Gurira) and the brilliant Nakia (a lovable Lupita Nyong’o), plus the introduction of Marvel character Ironheart—a sort of Iron Man descendent—from Dominique Thorne.

Narrative-wise, Black Panther starts simply enough, with Shuri running from her feelings and refusing the Black Panther mantle because she’s busy doing science stuff. The rest of the film plays out like a lesson in accepting change, but with an absolutely pointless layer featuring federal agents played by Martin Freeman and Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Black Panther lags. Clocking in at nearly three hours, it’s a shame, too, because it has good bones. Through flashbacks and tedious expositional conversations, however, those bones start to matter less. In the end, all the story beats go down so predictably, in fact, that one wonders if Marvel itself is getting tired. It’ll make money, though, no doubt.

And all the same, Wakanda Forever does up the ante in the CGI realm, a notable achievement following its silly inclusion in the first film. When it focuses on quieter emotional moments, it even starts to feel like a solid outing. But Marvel, of course, isn’t about to give up its massive set-piece battles and swelling orchestral music. These scenes make it feel almost like two films crammed into one (which worked out so well for Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 3, right?), which could be about hedging bets in case folks didn’t accept a non-Boseman Black Panther. Wright holds her own, though, lending a certain grieving vulnerability that adds at least some dimension to the superhero movie about space metal. These actors worked with Boseman for years and were likely somewhat close, too, which makes some performances feel all the more authentic.

If the moral, though, is that moviegoers will absolutely go see a film absolutely packed with Black women leads, consider it a success—just don’t expect it to get to the point in a timely fashion.


+Wright tackles something so hard; Bassett is glorious

-Needless fed stuff; far too long

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever

Directed by Coogler

With Wright, Bassett, Gurira, Nyong’o, Mejía and Thorne

Violet Crown, Regal, PG-13, 161 min.

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