Faced with the difficult prospect of following his $1.3 billion blockbuster without the charismatic lead actor who provided that first film’s noble heart, Ryan Coogler pays an emotionally resonant tribute to Chadwick Boseman in the opening scenes of Black Panther: Wakanda Forever which will not leave any fan indifferent. Extending through the Marvel logo over the opening credits – reimagined to feature moving images of the late actor – the entire intro invites audiences to share in the grief felt by the filmmakers and cast, as well as the characters that they play, planting a vein of exquisite grief that ripples through this epic sequel.
The simple words of the end credits, “Dedicated to our friend Chadwick Boseman”, define the dominant spirit of the film, with its melancholy acknowledgment of loss and legacy. Which isn’t to say it lacks excitement, action, or even humor. Just thinking about Winston Duke’s Wakandan mountain warrior M’Baku munching on a carrot while growling “You bald demon” at Danai Gurira’s Okoye, his rival general from the all-female Dora Milaje Special Forces unit, make me laugh.
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever
A worthy sequel.
More than any other entry in the MCU canon, Black Panther became a true cultural phenomenon in terms of proud representation – a futuristic action-adventure that embraced history and tradition. It was an implicitly political representation of a staunchly independent African nation resisting the grip of colonizers hungry for its natural resources, a boldly imaginative response to generations of real-world trauma. Wrapping it all up in some cool superhero crap was a massive achievement.
Coogler and returning co-writer Joe Robert Cole maintain and arguably even reinforce that vein here. They introduce another ancient civilization of indigenous peoples who have escaped a brutal history of slavery and genocide, living in fantastic isolation and ready to unleash all their considerable power against any global plunderer seeking to exploit their most precious natural resource. It is, of course, vibranium, the same meteorite-derived metallic element from which Wakanda derives its power.
Whether these hidden Mayan descendants living underwater, led by the fearsome ruler of Talokan, Namor (Tenoch Huerta Mejia), become valuable allies or dangerous enemies to the Wakandans is the main plot that drives the plot. of the sequel – and possibly future installments.
Coogler resists the tireless impulse to cross-pollinate so many MCU films by concluding with two distinct clear indications of ongoing conflict, as well as a moving yet jaw-dropping mid-credits sequence, which caused gasps during the press screening I caught. Black Panther the characters might go on to lend a hand in those other Marvel exploits populated by characters who talk like dumb teenagers, but every seed planted here is that of a darker saga mostly contained within its own complex universe.
If the storytelling gets messy at times with its endless location changes, the battles sometimes sacrifice visceral action for sheer CG breadth, and the runtime (an expansive 2 hours 41 minutes) really kicks in, especially in the walking midsection, this highly anticipated sequel is every bit as exciting as it needs to be.
The presence of two main characters, Letitia Wright’s royal tech geek, Shuri, and her mother, Queen Ramonda (Angela Bassett), has been amplified to affect the ways in which the two actors respond with bracing authority. This is a direct result of the death of King T’Challa and the subsequent loss of the Black Panther, protector of Wakanda, a devastating blow depicted in the opening scene.
MCU movies don’t usually stand out for their emotional weight, but there’s perhaps no more upsetting moment in canon than a stricken Ramonda telling Shuri, “Your brother is with the ancestors.”
This lays the groundwork for tough mother-daughter conflicts — one taking solace in the spirit world, the other stepping up her devotion to science — but also differing views on how to protect the country. Even the need to find a new Black Panther for Wakanda’s survival becomes a matter of dispute, initially dismissed by Shuri as a relic from another time.
It’s gratifying, however, that Coogler and Cole don’t just keep going. Instead, they poignantly linger over the elaborate funeral ceremony, a balance of solemnity and kinetically charged dance to drums and percussion, with the coffin carried by Okoye and the Dora Milaje. This jaw-dropping sequence also offers a first opportunity to be amazed by the incredible beauty and detail of Ruth Carter’s costumes, arguably surpassing even her Oscar-winning work on the previous film with garments that combine an elegant sophistication of the future world with African symbology.
Comic book history aficionados who have been eagerly anticipating the appearance of Namor – first introduced as the proto-mutant submarine in 1939 – won’t be disappointed with the moody demeanor and beefy physique. of Mexican actor Huerta in the role. The winged feet might be a bit too much, but the royal attire is spectacular, his hard-bodied bare chest adorned with shells, pearls, gold and kelp robes.
Namor and his Talokanil warriors first appear as a hostile response to a CIA-operated American ship in the mid-Atlantic in an action sequence that has the hard charge energy of a Bond opener. This demonstrates the strength and strategic coordination of the Talokanil, but also their mermaid-like ability to hypnotize opponents, tricking them into diving into the depths of the ocean.
After thwarting this attempt to mine his vibranium deposits, Namor travels to Wakanda, which had no prior knowledge of the existence of the Talokanil civilization, let alone the invaluable resource they have in common. Namor demands an alliance against the intruders. Catching Ramonda and Shuri in an intimate moment of mourning, he warns them that new technology is making their vibranium vulnerable.
” not easy next time. But neither Ramonda nor her daughter are inspired to trust Namor.
With Okoye as the main facilitator, much to M’Baku’s chagrin, they contact longtime CIA ally Everett Ross (Martin Freeman) and war dog Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o), the exiled spymaster who runs a school in Haiti. Setting off another explosive confrontation between different factions trying to kidnap the inventor of the vibranium tracker, they also recruit 19-year-old MIT science expert Riri Williams (Dominique Thorne).
Riri is a great new addition and Thorne (Judas and the Black Messiah) brings bubbly humor to the mix, though in a three-hour film they might have found a few minutes for a quick practice edit to make his transition into a kickass fighter more believable. Yet Riri’s technological ingenuity grants him an instant brotherly kinship with fellow genius Shuri, which eases the latter’s isolation, especially after another tragedy strikes Wakanda.
It also further strengthens the coherent thread at the same time Black Panther films of women as vessels of invaluable power, ingenuity and intelligence. There’s a corresponding echo of this even among the Talokanil, where Namor relies on his fierce cousin Namora (Mabel Cadona) no less than the mighty Attuma (Alex Livinalli), his two primary warrior lieutenants. Carter’s look for Namora is stunning, with glamrock-style shoulder pads secured by lobster claws and a massive lionfish-inspired headpiece; her flowing diaphanous dresses make her look like a marine ghost.
Of course, any half-hearted Marvel fan will know that a new Black Panther is bound to emerge as the stakes rise and the threat escalates, and despite Disney urging early audiences to avoid spoilers, the identity of this new protector was quickly revealed. Not that it’s that hard to guess. But the process of discovery – which unfolds via a tour of the ancestral plane, complete with a superstar cameo – remains suspenseful and exhilarating, especially once the new and improved Panther suit is put into action.
While the majority of the film’s battles take place on the surface, it’s the Talokanil’s ability to harness the power of water – I mean, these people can ride whales – that makes for the most stunning setting, in which Coogler skillfully orchestrates the destruction to mirror the real-world disasters of floods and tsunamis. A major clash at sea, on a massive Wakandan ship and in the skies above, is another highlight. But Coogler balances the action with character-driven human drama throughout, keeping the stakes personal and global.
This duality gives the actors more to chew on than the usual MCU fare. Wright and Bassett star in the sequel, their characters refusing to let their pain diminish their dignity as they both proudly carry the torch of T’Challa. Nyong’o has a less central role but as always an essential presence. The same goes for Gurira, with the ever vigilant Okoye sidelined until the end of the film when she proves her unwavering loyalty in battle.
Much has been written lately about too many cinematographers failing to light actors of color. But new DP Autumn Durald Arkapaw picks up where Rachel Morrison left off Black Panther giving us strikingly beautiful and physically powerful black and Latino actors as resplendent movie stars. Set designer Hannah Beachler’s awe-inspiring world-building ranges from the dazzling Afrofuturism of Wakanda to the majestic underwater halls of Talokan, signifying not one but two advanced civilizations resistant to white invaders.
Even if the length seems too long, Coogler and his editors deserve credit for leaving breathing space between action scenes for character and relationship development, with Ludwig Göransson’s African-influenced score improving on the both those quieter moments and the big smackdowns. It’s not possible for wakanda forever to match the groundbreaking impact of its predecessor, but in terms of continuing the saga while paving the way for future installments, it’s more than satisfying.