Black Panther: Wakanda Forever Review
Updated: Feb 8
Full disclosure: I am a huge Marvel fan, and I married an even bigger Marvel fan. I’ve read the comics and watched the cartoons as a kid, and grew into adulthood right in time with the Marvel Cinematic Universe of films (MCU). Watching every new MCU release is an event in my household: we always see them as early as possible, and get food at the same restaurant afterwards while we nerd out about theories and thoughts on each movie...relentlessly.
A Tall Order:
Although I'd seen this film on Opening Night, I got to rewatch Black Panther: Wakanda Forever as part of my Awards season coverage. I really loved the first film, and its monumental impact on representation in the entertainment industry through the unabashed beauty of afro-futurism, tackling themes of familial mistakes and what responsibility one has to their communities both locally and at large. It was visually stunning (except for some CGI rhinos at the end...), and was rightfully lauded and celebrated with Awards. This sequel had the tremendous task of picking up the franchise and continuing on with it, which was only made more difficult by the tragic loss of leading man Chadwick Boseman (T'Challa).
This movie does a fantastic job of helping us grieve not only the character of T’Challa, but also for Chadwick himself. It smartly does this through the lens of his sister Shuri, masterfully played by Letita Wright; showcasing how that grief can be weaponized and used to both positive and negative effect. It's a drastic flip to go from following a noble protagonist (T'Challa in the first film) to a protagonist who grapples with the use of vengeance to help regain some semblance of peace. Shuri (and all the characters around her) are dealing with tremendous grief, and the film presents this grief in a raw and unapologetic way, showing that the journey is not linear, quick, or homogenous.
The Goods, and VERY Goods:
In my opinion, the Black Panther franchise has been stacked with arguably the most talented cast in the MCU, and this sequel is no different. New additions Tenoch Huerta (Namor), Michaela Coel (Aneka) and Dominique Williams (Riri Williams) all make lasting impressions as characters pulled from the comics, and each get their moments to shine. Danai Gurira (Okoye) and Winston Duke (M'Baku) return with amazing action and comedic moments, but the heart of the movie (and its three strongest performances) lay with the women closest to Boseman’s T’Challa. Lupita Nyong’o steals every scene she's in as Nakia, doing so much, yet with so little screen time. Letita Wright moves from comedic sidekick to a layered, nuanced performance this time as a sister grappling with her brother's death, as well as the entire structure of the world she’s known crumbling around her, proving what a capable leading actress she is.
Of course, you cannot talk about this movie without talking about Angela Bassett. We all knew she was going to be giving an incredible performance from that initial trailer (see above), but watching it within the context of the film just adds so much to her delivery. She is simultaneously heartbreaking, strong, defiant and valiant. Her performance in this movie is truly a triumph to an already illustrious career filled with memorable performances. I am so heartened and grateful to see how much love and recognition she’s been getting this awards season.
Some Final Thoughts:
This movie, like its predecessor, is visually and emotionally stunning, with Ryan Coogler returning as Director, keeping the film simultaneously engaging and devastating. Ruth E. Carter returns to design some of the best costuming out there, with special kudos needing to go to her funeral outfits, which are truly iconic. The story makes a tonal shift from the first film, but one rooted in logic, and while not necessarily keeping you guessing what comes next, it keeps you entertained and engaged. My one fault with this movie is the length...I will say, even though I am an avid fan of the MCU as a whole and love the interconnected-ness of this universe, we could have cut the subplot following Martin Freeman and Julia Louis Dreyfuss, which really only served to show what is to come...possibly.
Overall this movie is a fantastic ride from beginning to end. While it might not be as groundbreaking as its predecessor, it is still one of the most culturally significant films of the year. The movie moves adeptly through its story, making us all take moments to breathe and reflect, before catapulting you into more action and emotional repercussions. Anchored by amazing performances and stellar design and direction, this film is not to be missed.
...oh, and bring tissues.