This is a SPOILER-FREE review of Black Panther Wakanda: Forever.
It’s astounding how Ryan Coogler and Co. could take a real-life tragedy like the death of Chadwick Boseman and turn it into such a triumphant film. Because that’s the one word that describes this film the best. It’s a triumph across the board. You cross the turmoil in Wakanda with the turmoil in real life about what exactly this film was going to do with the character of T’Challa. That’s not a spoiler, we all know that Marvel didn’t go the route of recasting the character out of respect for Chadwick Boseman. But that’s a discussion for another day for someone else. As for this film, it pays the utmost respect to not only Boseman but the characters surrounding him and T’Challa.
You have a larger focus on characters that might’ve been seen as ancillary ones like M’Baku, Nakia, Okoye, and an excellent mix of newcomers like Namor, Riri Williams, and Namora. That focus on these characters is the backbone of Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. The T’Challa/Chadwick Boseman-sized hole in the film and our hearts needed tremendous performances, and the cast gives it here. The plot is weighty and not only focuses on how to deal with the death of T’Challa but the overall conflict between the Atlanteans and the Wakandans. Add in a pinch of S.H.I.E.L.D./S.W.O.R.D. style bureaucracy and the side story of bringing Riri Williams to the MCU, and you’ve got something really special.
Like Black Panther gave plenty of African-American people a superhero to root for and see themselves in, Wakanda Forever gives Central American and Latin American people a group to see themselves in with the Atlanteans. Just like Wakanda was absolutely breathtaking to see, Atlantis is equally, if not more beautiful.
NAMOR IS THE HIGHLIGHT AMONG PLENTY OF EXCELLENT CHARACTERS
Tenoch Huerta gives an absolutely star-making performance as Namor in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. He’s terrifying, and fiery, but also incredibly relatable and reasonable in his qualms with the outside world. There is no true “villain” in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. Namor is no mustache-twirling true evil, he’s got his viewpoints, and he’s there to protect his people at the end of the day. His scenes with Shuri (Letitia Wright) are among the best and most well-written in the film. Even if you’re rooting for the Wakandans here, they make it really easy to see why Namor is doing what he’s doing.
The other performances in the film are top notch with Angela Bassett putting a masterclass on fury, grief, and leadership as Queen Ramonda. Her scenes in the trailers are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to how much of a powerhouse performance she gives. Danai Gurira has much more to work with as well, she’s Shuri’s protector, the leader of the Wakandan army, and like everyone else, has to deal with the death of T’Challa in her own way.
Letitia Wright could have crumbled under the weight of this whole story. She doesn’t and lifts the film up with a truly transcendent performance. Seeing her go from “happy-go-lucky” genius royalty in Black Panther to where she is in this film is a testament to the excellent writing from Ryan Coogler and Joe Robert Cole. Wright channels whatever sadness and real-life wounds into her character and Shuri is much better off because of it. She’s powerful, and brilliant, but deeply wounded and has to process all the death around her.
OTHER PERFORMANCES IN THE FILM OF NOTE
Mabel Cadena as Namora goes along with Namor as a “villain” that you can easily see their motivations and understand them. It’s a fantastic bit of writing and Cadena almost acts as the reminder to Namor that these “surface” people can’t be trusted. She’s the backbone of a lot of the action scenes, especially the ones where Namor is busy elsewhere. She and Alex Livinalli (Attuma) have some breathtaking action scenes including one with Okoye on a bridge that’s the action highlight of the film.
The scenes of levity and breaks from all the heavier material all run through Dominique Thorne (Riri Williams). The future Ironheart is charismatic and gives a performance very similar to Chadwick Boseman in Captain America: Civil War that will make you beg to see more from the character. I can’t wait for more from her in the MCU and more from Tenoch Huerta as Namor. He’s every bit of the character he is in the comics. He’s terrifying but you can’t keep your eyes off him.
SPOTTY CGI, FORCED CONNECTIONS, AND LENGTH
Marvel Studios films and CGI have a spotty track record and this film is no different. There are stunning shots of landscapes and underwater cities that look absolutely beautiful. However, when some action scenes are in motion, there are glaring moments that take you out of the experience with CGI that’s a bit spotty. Complaining about CG in a Marvel movie isn’t something new, but it definitely takes you a bit out of the film.
Surprisingly, the film doesn’t have very much outside MCU stuff put in. There’s the bureaucracy aspect with agencies and the outside world trying to wrangle Wakanda, but outside of that, this is a pretty self-contained entry into the MCU. That outside influence does feel a bit forced though. It sets up what’s likely to be a US/World vs. Wakanda plotline in the future, but it just feels tacked on here.
The film is a bit on the long side at 2 hours and 41 minutes. There’s not much that could be cut here without sacrificing the overall narrative and the focus on so many characters. The third act is not as strong as the first two. It does the normal Marvel third act with plenty of fighting happening in multiple locations. It’s a lot of action all at once and the location where the fight happens on is kind of silly when you think about it. Those issues don’t drag the film too much though, this is still an excellent film.
AN IMPOSSIBLE TASK DONE NEARLY FLAWLESSLY
Through it all, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever does something that shouldn’t really be possible. It takes the tragedy of Chadwick Boseman‘s death and makes it the center of this film. This movie is all about the impact that death has on these characters. It goes through how each of them deals with grief. Some do it better than others through the course of the film. That’s the central thread of Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.
It never feels cheap with how it deals with death, grief, struggle, and eventually triumph. Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is a stunning experience.
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever releases in theaters on November 11th.
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