Before I proceed any further, this is a spoiler-free review. That means I won’t discuss specific plot points related to Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.
How would Ryan Coogler pull this off without T’Challa and most of all, after the passing of Chadwick Boseman? That’s the single most important question been lingering in my mind since Marvel Studios decided to go ahead with the sequel and had T’Challa written off in favour of another character taking over the Black Panther mantle.
They could have gone for the recasting process (personally, I would like to see that since there are so much more stories to tell surrounding T’Challa) but chose not to do so out of respect for the late actor’s legacy. The fact that Boseman’s untimely death at the age of 43 due to colon cancer in 2020 was a bitter pill to swallow. He was, after all, the heart and soul who made the first Black Panther such a pop-culture phenomenon for a Black superhero movie.
This, in turn, makes it harder to imagine a Black Panther sequel without him. But like it or not, here we are. Well, I’m glad to say after all my initial doubts and whatnots, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever manages to defy the odds and emerged as one of the best Marvel movies to date. It was also a much-needed boost of faith and quality — something that the MCU Phase 4 has been such a bumpy ride after the post-Endgame era.
Movies like Black Widow and Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness may have been decent efforts but could have done better, given their respective promising premises. Eternals, in the meantime, was a potentially ambitious but disappointingly heavy-handed superhero epic. The only notable exception prior to Black Panther: Wakanda Forever was Spider-Man: No Way Home, one of the prime examples of how a fun and emotionally engaging superhero movie should be.
In this sequel, we learn that the people of Wakanda — among them include Queen Ramonda (Angela Bassett), Shuri (Letitia Wright) as well as Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o), Okoye (Danai Gurira) and M’Baku (Winston Duke) — are mourning for the death of their king, T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman). Just as they are grieving, a new threat arrives from the underwater empire of Talokan led by Namor (Tenoch Huerta).
One of the things that I always hate about MCU these days regardless of movies or Disney+ series is the overreliance and even, awkwardly-misplaced moments of humour to offset the grim or dramatic tone of a story.
Thankfully, Coogler — working from a script that he once again co-wrote alongside Joe Robert Cole — doesn’t turn Black Panther: Wakanda Forever into an unlikely joke-fest. The obligatory sense of humour may still be present but at least they are tolerable enough without sacrificing the emotional arc of the sequel.
The story does a great job of addressing the sudden death of T’Challa which mirrors the real-life passing of Chadwick Boseman. All in a poignant and heartfelt way of coping with loss and grief and above all, a celebration of life that honours the legacy of Chadwick Boseman.
Despite the depressing subject matter, Coogler doesn’t turn his sequel into an overly downbeat movie to the point that everything becomes joyless. Instead, he manages to strike a balance between sentiment and spectacle, making the otherwise mammoth 161 minutes (that’s 2 hours and 41 minutes) an evenly-paced epic.
Speaking of spectacle, Coogler has improved a lot since the first film in terms of meshing practical stunts and special effects. The action is mostly top-notch except for the earlier set pieces that take place during the night or dark environment (not sure if it was due to the dim IMAX projection during the screening that I went for it). This is especially true during the blurry-looking elaborate car chase sequence — an unfortunate step-down from what Coogler has previously done better in the first film.
The special effects in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever has none of the CGI flimsiness of the first film (remember the final showdown between T’Challa and Michael B. Jordan’s Killmonger?). Large-scale moments of daylight attacks are proof of that, with relative newcomer Tenoch Huerta’s Namor showcasing his superhuman strength and ability to fly with the help of tiny wings on his ankles.
Huerta’s Namor, in the meantime, is a surprisingly great addition to the ever-growing roster of MCU characters. Because I originally had my doubt about the sequel going as far as changing his comic-book background from Atlantis to the Aztec-inspired Talokan and even his appearance. I admit it does take time for me to get used to the whole new look but Huerta’s engaging screen presence is good enough to make me forget about the change. He proves to be a formidable antagonist which reminds me of how Michael B. Jordan was first introduced as Killmonger in the first film. The story also gives him a sympathetic backstory to help justify his course of action throughout the movie.
Another worthy addition is the introduction of Dominique Thorne, who excels in her plucky supporting turn as the tech genius, Riri Williams. Even though the unfortunate loss of Chadwick Boseman is sorely felt in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, the recurring cast from the first film still stands out on its own. Letitia Wright may have big shoes to fill here, where she is given a more significant role this time around as Shuri. But she manages to prove her worth to have what it takes to lead a movie and it helps that the sequel made a solid case for exploring her character arc.
The rest of the cast, notably Angela Bassett as well as Danai Gurira and Lupita Nyong’o deliver equally strong support in their respective roles. Apart from the action and special effects, Ludwig Göransson’s fascinating experiment of sound and music evokes different kinds of feelings ranging from gloomy to dread and triumphant, depending on the varied moods of the scenes. Hannah Beachler and Jason T. Clark’s lush production design along with Autumn David Arkapaw’s mostly dynamic cinematography are all worth mentioning as well.
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever certainly ends the otherwise wobbly MCU Phase 4 on a high note. Not to forget, a testament that superhero movie fatigue isn’t necessarily applicable if we have more cinematic qualities like this one.