Film Review: Black Panther: Wakanda Forever
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever
Director: Ryan Coogler
In Theaters 11.11
In a cinematic universe that has gotten us to pay to see what often amounts to repeating variations on the same movie, 2018’s Black Panther stood out. It was groundbreaking in terms of representation and inclusiveness, and an epic, afrofuturist science fiction with an insightful, unflinching social conscience. The sequel, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, has a lot to live up to.
In Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, Queen Ramonda (Angela Bassett) and the kingdom of Wakanda are trying to move forward after the untimely passing of King T’Challa—their leader, protector and the Black Panther. The grief weighs heavily on everyone, perhaps most of all on Shuri (Letitia Wright), his adoring younger sister, who is still struggling with guilt over being unable to save him. There is little time for sorrow or reflection, however, as the nations of the world are aggressively pushing for more transparency from Wakanda and greater access to Vibranium, the precious metal whose unique qualities power the Wakandans’ amazing technology. Worse, a new and serious threat to Wakanda arises in the form of a hidden, undersea nation who have come to the surface world ready to rumble. Queen Ramonda and Shiri must face the leader of this civilization, Namor (Tenoch Huerta), a formidable adversary with a dark agenda.
In trying to continue the franchise without T’Challa and living up to the first film’s legacy as one of the only comic book movies to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever has bitten off a lot. The film is best enjoyed with tempered expectations. From the top-notch acting to the gorgeous production design, there’s a lot to like about Wakanda Forever. While there are longer sections without rousing, when the action does come, it’s terrific. Still, it’s missing something without former lead Chadwick Boseman,though it’s missing even more without Michael B. Jordan’s antagonist, Erik Killmonger, serving as the driving force behind the conflict of the story.
It was Killmonger’s backstory and the weight of the themes that his character brought to Black Panther that took the film to the level of great drama, and Namor is just a (literally) watered-down variation on Killmonger mixed with a heavy dose of Aquaman. Wakanda Forever’s plotting and pacing are all over the place—the film is too long and there’s little in the way of comic relief. All of this might be enough to kill the movie if the emotional drama weren’t so powerfully and sincerely played by director Ryan Coogler and his excellent cast, who all ride to the formidable challenge of making the film work. Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is an unapologetically loving tribute to Boseman and what he embodied as the first Black superhero to headline a hit movie; on that level, it’s a success.
The cast is ably led by Wright in an impressive performance that compares favorably to Boseman’s in the original. Bassett makes the most of some powerful speeches, and the great Winston Duke absolutely crushes it with the presence he brings once again as M’Baku, a more textured and endearing character this time around. My biggest complaint with the film is that Lupita Nyong’o as Nakia is kept far too much on the sidelines, though she certainly adds a great deal whenever she does come on screen. Martin Freeman returns as Everett Ross, though it amounts to an even more thankless role this time.
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever isn’t likely to appeal to people outside of the fanbase, but it doesn’t need to in order to be one of the biggest hits of the year. Whether it manages to achieve that goal rests largely on the question of whether the somber tone will lend itself to repeat viewing for most moviegoers. –Patrick Gibbs
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