Black Panther: Wakanda Forever

Powerful. Emotional. Devastating. Cathartic. Beautiful.

Ryan Coogler returned to write and direct the sequel to his Oscar nominated and winning Black Panther, but everything got messed up with one tragic, unexpected moment.

T’Challa, the Black Panther, played by the awesome Chadwick Boseman passed away from colon cancer in 2020 throwing the entire production into uncertainty. The cast, crew and company were caught unaware from the loss of Chadwick and no one was quite sure what was going to happen. Marvel Studio’s head honcho Kevin Feige announced that the role of T’Challa would not be recast. It was controversial, but after seeing Wakanda Forever, you could see why they made the decision.

Wakanda Forever was a celebration of Chadwick Boseman’s life and gave the cast a chance to grieve the loss of their “King.” You could absolutely feel the presence of Chadwick throughout the film, especially in the performances of his castmates from Black Panther. More on that later.

King T’Challa passed away from an unexpected disease and the country of Wakanda is in mourning. His sister Shuri (Letitia Wright) was completely devastated from the death of T’Challa and was finding it particularly difficult to move on with her life. Queen Ramonda (Angela Bassett) tried to help her daughter accept the loss of her brother.

However, they ended up being confronted by the head of the undersea kingdom of Talokan, Namor (Tenoch Huerta Mejía) who was angry over an attempt from US forces on an undersea mound of vibranium. Namor said a US “scientist” was behind creating a machine capable of locating vibranium. The scientist turned out to be Riri Williams (Dominique Thorne).

I don’t want to go into any further detail about the plot because there are plenty of awesome moments that could be spoiled.

Though she was an absolute highlight, Letitia Wright’s Shuri was initially just a secondary/supporting character in Black Panther. It is very challenging for a supporting character to step up and take the lead of a movie, but Wright is totally savage and knocks it out of the park. I was not sure if she had it in her, but she was compelling as could be. You could see how the loss of Chadwick Boseman informed her performance to the point where, at times, it did not feel as if she was acting.

However, as amazing as Letitia Wright’s work was, the standout of the performances in Wakanda Forever was the spectacular Angela Bassett as Queen Ramonda. If Angela Bassett does not, at the very least, receive an Oscar nomination for this role, then there is something terribly wrong with the system. The power she displayed with every minute she was on screen was astounding. Everybody has seen the powerhouse line about her family from the trailer, but she was just as epic in the quieter moments as well. Queen Ramonda was a pillar of strength and gave us examples of why she was such a wondrous leader.

Every performer brought their A game. Tenoch Huerta debuted the classic Marvel character Namor and, while there were some changes made to the character, everything worked so well. He created an amazingly complex and deep “villain” that will have a major place in the MCU moving forward. I thought tying Namor to the culture of Central America was a stroke of genius and worked really well with the character. I know there are people out there who hate when Marvel Studios does anything different with a character, especially when they change the race/nationality of a character, but those people were never going to be happy. The character of Namor was well served by this script and any changes made did not effect who Namor was at his core.

Danai Gurira had one of the best arcs of the film as General Okoye of the Dora Milaje. This may have been the best work that I have ever seen from Gurira as the emotion of the situation was echoing in her performance. I also enjoyed the inclusion of Riri Williams, who will be starring in her own Disney + series, Ironheart, next year. She brought some much needed humor to the film. The humor was used in just the right level. This is still an MCU film and there will always be humor in these movies, but it does not overpower the scenes like it did at times during Thor: Love and Thunder.

I heard a review complaining about the lack of screen time for Winston Duke as M’Baku, but I thought he was used very well and I loved where the film left off with him. Another actor from the original film who returned to a great part, albeit somewhat smaller than the last time, was Lupita Nyong’o with Nakia.

The music was outstanding again and the CGI was great. Some of the issues with the third act of the original film was the CGI effects. I thought this film did a much better job with that and only had a few minor faults.

I have also heard some gripes about the length of the film, but I did not feel that. I thought it was paced extremely well and I did not feel the length, despite being 2 hours and 40 minutes long.

The only complaint I might be able to muster was there was a tad too much exposition when dealing with the past of Namor and a few other flashbacks, but it was such a minor issue that I almost did not mention it. I guess one could say that Namora (Mabel Cadena) and Attuma (Alex Livinalli) were really underused and did not standout among the warriors of Talokan.

I loved this movie. It was such an emotional roller coaster and it served as a wonderful tribute to Chadwick Boseman while continuing to build the world of Wakanda for the future of the MCU. The one mid credit scene (none at the end of the credits) was amazing and speaks well of the future.

For me, this is one of the best movies of the year and will challenge for the top spot next month in the Top 30 Best of 2022 list.

5 stars

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