Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is a masterclass in superhero storytelling. Emotionally rich and technically brilliant, Chadwick Boseman’s legacy is honored in a film that takes audiences and characters alike on a journey about grief, loss, and recovery.
Directed by Ryan Coogler, Wakanda Forever carries with it all of the filmmaker’s sensibilities and consciousness. The film takes itself seriously from the opening scene to the single, poignant, post-credit scene. From the onset, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever separates itself from the comedy-adventure trope that Marvel has heavily relied on. The protagonists rarely crack jokes and one-liners, something that feels incredibly refreshing. Audiences are looking for something with substance from their blockbusters, and Coogler does not disappoint.
At its core, Wakanda Forever is about grief, and the road to recovery for each individual touched by the passing of T’Challa. Of course, this grief did not require any acting, as the entire production mourned the passing of Chadwick Boseman. The actor’s death reverberates through the film, and each performance is molded by real-life relationships and bonds. The death of both the actor and the character he played is handled with incredible grace, sensibility, and honor.
At no point does T’Challa’s treatment feel like a disservice to Boseman, and fans will be relieved to see this dedication. Boseman’s death or T’Challa’s death in the film’s eye is a constant weight in the film. The hearts of the audience and the characters alike are heavy with where things could have been, what reality we’ve been, and how to move forward.
Wakanda Forever is led by the ensemble of the first film, but primarily by Letitia Wright, who reprises the role of Shuri. The character’s reluctance to properly mourn for her brother leads to a strong character arc that felt believable and real. Despite some real-life controversy on set, Wright plays Shuri with all the brilliance we were accustomed to from the first film. This time, we see a new side of her. With the pressure of being the princess of Wakanda and the absence of a Black Panther, Shuri feels mature, grief-stricken, and laser-focused on the task at hand.
Accompanying Wright are Lupita Nyong’o and Angela Bassett, who are as impressive as ever, reprising their roles of Nakia and Queen Ramonda respectively. Bassett in particular arguably puts her career-best performance in the role, with incredibly raw emotion packed into her delivery of each line of the script.
Of course, it can’t be a Marvel movie without pushing the universe forward, and Wakanda Forever introduces a staple of the franchise in Namor. Played by Tenoch Huerta, Namor is an absolute powerhouse in every way. Huerta masterfully portrays the character and his world is fleshed out in visually striking ways. It’s not an easy task to follow in the footsteps of Aquaman, a billion-dollar film with Jason Momoa as the lead. Marvel opted for a darker and more carefully handed approach with Namor, a stark contrast from James Wan’s more fantastic and campy approach in 2018. Expect Namor to take center stage in the Marvel Cinematic Universe in Phase 5.
Another introduction to the Marvel Universe is Ironheart, played by Dominique Thorne. A brilliant student, who got caught in the impending conflict between Wakanda and Talokan. Thorne, who will be reprising her role in a leading Disney+, delivers a strong performance in the film. The film allows the audience to compare and contrast Ironheart and Shuri, both gifted youths from different walks of life. More screen time for Throne would have fleshed her character even further, and her inspiration from Iron Man could have used some details, but ultimately her role serves its purpose in the film.
Superhero films have long been homogenized to appeal to the widest audience and are audience-tested to the point of losing its heart. Here, Marvel allowed Ryan Coogler to flex his directing muscles unfettered, allowing for an incredible film that does not feel encumbered by superhero tropes. At times, Wakanda Forever can a tad longer than it needs to and the action sequences in the third act leave a little more to be desired, but these are small nitpicks in an overall strong film.
Overall, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is a powerful film with poignant performances, rich themes, and striking visuals. The film wraps up Phase 4 by telling Marvel’s most personal story yet while fleshing out the universe with new characters and worlds.