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Review: Black Panther: Wakanda Forever

November 10, 2022

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

How do you go about making a sequel to a blockbuster film when the star of said film has tragically and unexpectedly passed away?

That’s the moral conundrum faced by director Ryan Coogler with Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, a follow up to his 2018 Marvel film that arrives in the wake of star Chadwick Boseman’s shocking death from cancer in 2020.

Coogler wisely doesn’t recast Boseman’s King T’Challa, instead addressing his loss right up front in the film. Through this, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is able to become a fitting tribute to the actor, that is at its strongest when openly exploring themes of grief, unexpected loss, and moving on.

The film opens with the African nation of Wakanda mourning the unexpected death of their Black Panther, King T’Challa. This paves the way for T’Challa’s younger sister Shuri (Letitia Wright), their mother Queen Ramonda (Angela Bassett), and Dora Milaje warrior Okoye (Danai Gurira) to take centre stage in the film.

Queen Ramonda has been left to deal with the geopolitics of Wakanda and their resource-guarding of Vibranium, the powerful metal that is wanted by the rest of the world for its weapons capabilities. They are faced with a new threat from the emergence of the Talokan, an ancient underwater civilization led by Namor (Tenoch Huerta), who also rely on the metal. The women enlist the help of T’Challa’s former partner Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o), who is now teaching in Haiti, as well as Riri (Dominique Thorne), an MIT student who has developed a machine to detect Vibranium.

A script for this sequel had already been written prior to Boseman’s death, which had to be overhauled by co-writers Coogler and Joe Robert Cole. This obviously isn’t anyone’s fault given what happened in real life between the first and second films, but Wakanda Forever does feel like a story that has been heavily retooled and rewritten, to provide both closure for its lead characters while still advancing the Marvel Cinematic Universe. As such, the film is bloated and overlong, juggling too many characters and story strands as it hops across the globe (it reminded me of last year’s Eternals in this way).

This is not a perfect film by any measure. The storytelling feels overly messy in places, and the attempts at humour fall flat. Despite a decent amount of action, the film can test our patience at a whopping and at times monotonous 161 minutes. The film is also at its weakest when it feels like it is straining to tie back into the larger MCU, including the subplot in America and stuff with Riri which feels indiscernible from the Marvel shows on Disney+ (increasingly an issue as the movie-TV boundaries get erased). The more genuine moments can get overshadowed by the cog-in-the-machine story demands, which require it to slot back into this unwieldy franchise.

The film is at its strongest when paying tribute to Boseman, which does make it more emotionally resonant than your typical MCU film, including themes about the different ways people grieve and how this can lead to seeking vengeance. Wright, Bassett, Gurira and Nyong’o do a fine job of carrying it in the absence of the charismatic star. At its heart, Wakanda Forever is a portrait of a sister mourning the loss of her older brother, and Wright deserves a lot of credit for carrying much of it on her shoulders. It’s her performance that helps keep the film feeling grounded, through to its bittersweet final moments.

On a technical level, the film mostly impresses. The production design, Ruth E. Carter’s costumes, and Ludwig Göransson’s score – all elements that won the first film its trio of Oscars – remain exceptional this time around. While a few of the visual effects shots are a bit shaky (same as in the first one), there are a lot of colourful design elements that pop out, and Göransson successfully mixes vocal elements into his booming sonic accompaniment.

The first Black Panther was a very solid (if slightly overrated) film that become a genuine cultural phenomenon, and it’s still one of the better pictures in the MCU. This sequel can’t reach those same heights, and is ultimately a bit of a mixed bag, but it does about as well as can be expected given the loss of its star. There are enough elements of Black Panther: Wakanda Forever that do work for the film to earn a recommendation for fans looking to say goodbye to Boseman’s King T’Challa.

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever opens exclusively in theatres on November 11th.

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