Black Panther: Wakanda Forever
The awaited sequel works well as a send-off and recycled continuation
The death of Chadwick Boseman was a gut-wrenching and surprising blow for many fans, but it must have been absolutely demolishing for those who knew and worked with him. As such, I can’t begin to imagine how hard it must have been to retool the sequel to Black Panther (2018) after the death of its protagonist. Nevertheless, the brave cast and crew have delivered Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (2022).
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, begins with the death of King T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman), and his subsequent funeral. The advanced African nation of Wakanda is left in the hands of very capable women: Queen Ramonda (Angela Bassett), Princess Shuri (Letitia Wright), and General Okoye (Danai Gurira). However, Wakanda is challenged when an underwater civilization is discovered led by the god-like Namor (Tenoch Huerta).
Ryan Coogler returns to direct this sequel and continues to bring a grounding attention to character that many other blockbusters forget. Black Panther: Wakanda Forever has the minimum amount of fight and chase scenes to be considered a superhero movie and is instead more focused on debating the role that powerful colonized people should play against their previous colonizers. If that theme sounds familiar, it’s because the first film covered it. Wakanda Forever recycles this question, albeit posed to Namor and his meso-American-derived underwater kingdom instead of Wakanda. As such, Coogler is essentially rebooting the character arcs with Shuri and Namor at the center instead of T’Challa and the previous film’s villain: Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan). This doesn’t mean Wakanda Forever is not entertaining, but it does lose a sense of freshness by feeling like a rather glamorous recycling.
Coogler brings together most of his team from the first Black Panther and together they’re able to bring Wakanda back to life again. From Ruth E. Carter’s brilliant costumes to the inventive sets by Hannah Beachler, and the killer soundtrack, each cog works to bring together a truly pleasing experience. We get more exploration of Wakandan customs and its day-to-day life. You want Coogler to bring this same level attention to the underwater kingdom of Namor as well. Instead, Coogler is a bit too timid here or perhaps constrained by the visual effects budget he could use for underwater scenes.
The strapped-budget feeling is made apparent in many scenes which unnecessarily take place at night. This is used by many filmmakers to conceal bad CGI or stunt work, but for a major Marvel movie, this was surprising. Save for the final battle sequence, the action scenes were rather choppy and difficult to discern. The finale is powerful and entertaining enough, however, to paint over these earlier deficits.
Coogler clearly brings powerful women to the fore in this film. We get much more Bassett, who had been too sidelined in the previous film, and Wright is given her moment to shine as the film’s protagonist. Huerta is instantly convincing as Namor, giving you similar conflicted feelings that Jordan’s Killmonger did, making his character appealing while revealing potential villainy. Coogler goes for a darker and more serious tone with Wakanda Forever, this clashes with the mandatory universe tie-ins that the film is forced to include, but thankfully it’s fleeting.
In the end, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is an enjoyable sequel that honors its fallen star, while delivering a worthy continuation. The film’s plot and themes are shamelessly recycled, but the aesthetic design and character work is able to add enough wonder to deliver another inspiring time at the movies.