SPOILER ALERT: This column contains potential spoilers about “Black Panter: Wakanda Forever”.
When Chadwick Boseman tragically passed away from cancer months before the sequel to 2018’s “Black Panther” was set to begin filming, the fate of the film was up in the air. Director Ryan Coogler and co-writer Joe Robert Cole had to deal with the unimaginable. It was up to them to quickly rework the entire story to account for Boseman’s absence while also honoring his legacy.
It’s safe to say Coogler and Cole achieved the seemingly impossible. “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” is a product of the cast and crew’s grief, and it beautifully memorializes Boseman’s contributions to both the Marvel Cinematic Universe and pop culture as a whole.
The film opens with Shuri frantically trying to save T’Challa from an unspecified illness, but due to the actions of Killmonger in “Black Panther,” their supply of the special herb that would heal him is gone. His funeral is a solemn, yet spiritual event; his family, dressed in white, holds a private ceremony before carrying his coffin through the streets where people dance and sing in a celebration of life. The opening MCU credits are silent and display a montage of Boseman throughout his Marvel career.
This sequence immediately sets the tone for what’s ahead. It proves this is an MCU film unlike any other; it has a beating heart. Although it’s less distanced from the rest of the MCU than the first film, Coogler’s vision still shines through in its exploration of grief and resilience.
I can’t even begin to imagine what it must’ve been like for the cast to return to their roles. Having to work through personal grief while playing a character that’s basically grieving the same person is a complex task to take on, but the cast does so with grace and vulnerability.
Angela Bassett commands every scene she’s in. Her fierce, nurturing presence complements the frustration and raw emotion that Letitia Wright brings to the table. Going into filming, Wright knew all eyes were on her to lead the Black Panther saga into the future. She proves that she’s more than worthy of carrying the weight of the mantle.
Tenoch Huerta is fantastic as the Mayan sea god Namor. Like its predecessor, “Wakanda Forever” tackles socio-political issues that the rest of the MCU won’t touch. Namor’s underwater kingdom Talokan faces the same threat as Wakanda: nations are eager to steal their natural resources. Namor wants to combat this by waging a war against the surface world alongside Wakanda, but Queen Ramonda and Shuri oppose the needless violence. I’m excited to see more of Huerta in future MCU projects given how well he fits in against the rather crowded narrative.
Clocking in at around 160 minutes, “Wakanda Forever” has a bit of a pacing problem. Because the film doesn’t exist in a self-contained bubble like the first film, it juggles many different characters and plot details that tie into the greater MCU continuity. Although Riri Williams is a fun side character, she was clearly only written in to set up her solo Disney Plus series that’s coming in late 2023. It feels like other familiar faces are included just so audiences can go, “Hey, that’s the character from that other thing!”
Despite its flaws, “Wakanda Forever” is a triumph. It conquers the recent MCU fatigue that was caused by mediocre projects like “Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness” and “Thor: Love and Thunder” because there's real passion flowing throughout. Coogler successfully blended blockbuster action set pieces with visceral emotional stakes to craft one of the most impactful MCU projects to date.
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