In 2018, Black Panther proved that a Marvel movie could be more than your typical superhero fare. It was an empowering and culturally significant film that hit all the right notes with casting, music and story, and it captured the attention of audiences worldwide. It was nothing short of special.
As it turns out, lightning can strike twice.
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever meets an incredibly big challenge with an equally big movie. It not only has to live up to its expectations as a sequel, but it has to handle the tragic real-world loss of its star Chadwick Boseman.
What is brought to the screen is a fitting tribute to both Boseman and his character, T’Challa, which results in what is perhaps Marvel’s most mature and emotional movie yet.
Wakanda Forever sets up T’Challa’s loss immediately and spends the rest of the film trying to move on.
Each character is dealing with T’Challa’s loss in their own way. Shuri (Letitia Wright) has survivor’s guilt and is trying to her way through a dark cycle of grief and revenge. Queen Ramonda (Angela Bassett) is doing her best to hold the nation together, but her son’s death has caused her to grip her daughter even tighter. Okoye (Danai Gurira) struggles to find purpose outside of the Dora Milaje, and Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o) has fled from her emotions, and Wakanda, all together.
Amidst the grief, Wakanda has to present a united front in order to ease political tensions. The question of how to lead Wakanda is put to the test when the secret underwater nation of Talokan makes its presence known and approaches its neighbours with an ultimatum.
It is hard to ignore Boseman’s absence here. T’Challa was a unifying presence in Black Panther and, as a result, the sequel takes time to service each of the character’s (fiercely female-driven) storylines before landing on its successor.
There’s no denying that at 2 hours and 40 minutes, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is a big movie, and while it may feel long at times, it’s never dull.
The new characters are particular standouts. Dominique Thorne’s Riri Williams is a force, reiterating with every scene she steals that her upcoming solo series, Ironheart, is going to be one to watch.
Tenoch Huerta brings Namor, a much-loved comic book character, to the screen with an equal balance of menace and heart. Like Michael B. Jordan before him, Huerta manages to portray his antagonist with such charisma and sincerity that it’s oftentimes difficult to disagree with him.
Michaela Coel also makes a short but memorable appearance as Aneka, a new member of the Dora Milaje.
Visually, Wakanda Forever is somehow even bigger, bolder and more beautiful. The world of Talokan is brought to life with the same level of care as Wakanda and has underwater sequences that will no doubt challenge Avatar: The Way of Water when it releases later in the year.
The film manages to tick all the blockbuster boxes — epic music, stunning scenery and Oscar-worthy performances — but Wakanda Forever harbours a bittersweet heart.
A large part of the appeal of the Black Panther movies is that they bring a spotlight to social issues that may otherwise be ignored. Ryan Coogler, yet again, delivers us a thought-provoking and emotionally impactful story, dressed up in superhero sauce.
Don’t get me wrong, Wakanda Forever is still a Marvel movie, and it has some exciting connections to the wider MCU. There are big action set pieces, surprising cameos, and new superhero tech to fawn over. But it’s the way in which Wakanda Forever achieves these things, with an awareness of its cultural impact and social ingenuity, that sets it apart.
The sequel achieves a lot of the same highs as its predecessor, but it isn’t really fair to rank the two. Wakanda Forever feels different, and it’s a vibe that feels right for a Black Panther movie that is shifting focus to a new Black Panther.
It’s rare for a comic book movie to feel this dark and emotionally charged. It’s quite possibly the most beautiful way you’ll ever experience the many stages of grief. Because the truth is the loss of T’Challa wasn’t something that was just felt by fictional characters. It’s something that millions of people worldwide were affected by.
In Wakanda Forever, Coogler provides us with an outlet to collectively share our grief and find hope in what comes next.
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever – The verdict
Pros: A mature and emotionally cathartic experience, great music, epic visuals and action, a fitting evolution of the Black Panther story.
Cons: Long duration.
Watch it if you like: Black Panther, Creed, Aquaman.
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever releases in Australian cinemas on November 10.
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