There are so many factors going against the latest installment in the MCU, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever that it’s remarkable it works as well as it does. Even without star Chadwick Boseman’s tragic passing in 2020, following up the beloved original which received a Best Picture nomination at the Oscars would have been no small feet. Rewriting the script to appropriately acknowledge the tragedy naturally made it even more difficult. Fortunately, while not perfect, the folks at Marvel have presented us with a beautiful story about how we overcome the grief life provides and accept the mantle of leadership when it is asked of us.
One of the best things about the original Black Panther is the clear motivations for the characters. We understand why Kilmonger wants Wakanda to be more brazen and bold in eliminating hatful governments from the world, but we also understand why T’Challa and his Father want to remain neutral to evil and protect the vibranium and other resources in their land.
Now with T’Challa’s passing the nation is reeling with grief while at the same time trying to figure out what is the best step forward. I’ve heard some call this “woke” or “political”, which I find confusing. Of course it’s political. It’s about the leader of a nation- a political role. At the beginning of the film T’Challa’s Mother and successor Queen Ramonda speaks at the UN to try and point out the hypocrisy of the many nation-states who demand action from Wakanda while stealing the resources and people of poorer nations.
One such example is a nation of merpeople led by a classic Marvel villain Namor (Tenoch Huerta, who is great in the role) who is trying to defend his nation, Talokan, from these marauders and thieves. Like Kilmonger he sees Wakanda as an enemy of change- an isolationist country that refuses to stand up to these powerful forces trying to take away his land. They clash and it forces young Shuri (T’Challa’s sister) to decide what kind of leader she wants to be.
All of this works and is a compelling story with good acting. I particularly enjoyed the first and third act of the film and the emotional gravitas director Ryan Coogler and the actors bring to the screen. The music is also very moving and well done by Ludwig Göransson, returning from his Oscar winning score from the first film.
That said, there are some issues with the film. I did feel like some of the cinematography was dark and difficult to make out what was being seen. I actually don’t love our local IMAX and so I figured it had to do with my particular screen but I’m hearing that others experienced this too so it seems like a problem.
Also there are times the screenplay gets a bit muddled particularly in the 2nd act. There are a lot of plotlines going on and some are hard to follow especially anything with Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Martin Freeman. Lupita Nyong’o is absolutely gorgeous in her scenes but they felt like more a part of the wider MCU building than for the story of Wakanda Forever. Dominque Thorne is introduced as Riri Williams/Ironheart and while I enjoyed her performance it also felt wedged in to serve the overall MCU and not this particular movie itself.
I loved any scene with Danai Gurira as Okoye. She’s rapidly turning into one of my favorite characters in the MCU and I get excited whenever she turns up whether it be in anything from Avengers: Endgame to the What If series. Angela Bassett is excellent and Letitia Wright is outstanding as Shuri who has to grieve and make important decisions in the movie and I completely bought her character transformation by the end- literal and figurative.
It is these character transformations which will determine what you get out of Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. If you need it to be a perfect movie than you’ll be disappointed. However, if you want an emotional journey for characters a lot of us have grown to care about than it more than suffices. It’s strengths certainly make up for its flaws.
There is a mid-credits scene but no post-credits, and there is also a surprise cameo I really loved but won’t spoil for you. Enjoy!
7 out of 10
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