Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, the sequel to the massive MCU hit Black Panther, is about grief. The movie has been dedicated to Chadwick Boseman, who died of cancer in 2020. In the story, it takes the form of grief for his character, T’Challa, who dies (offscreen) from an illness in the opening moments. The challenge then becomes: how can his family, and by extension all of Wakanda, go on without him? Especially with other countries seeking to prey on Wakanda’s supposed weakness.
That is certainly an interesting starting point for a big Marvel movie. They don’t normally base their plots on complex emotions, so that concept has a lot of promise. It adds tension because how can Queen Ramonda and Princess Shuri lead when they’re still swimming in grief? Sadly, this emotional undercurrent ends up being way too thin to survive being buried under the usual spectacle, fan-service and set-up for future Marvel properties. Where the original was comfortable being itself, focusing mostly on its own mythology and stakes, this one shows the strain of being weighed down by the overall franchise. The familiar MCU formula doesn’t work this time. Wakanda Forever just isn’t much fun.
There are a handful of inspiring visuals and a couple of the action scenes are cool but, by now, it is kind of difficult for these movies to give viewers anything that truly feels new. The same old, same old, still works when it is paired with a compelling story or a strong protagonist to keep things engaging. This story isn’t compelling and the protagonist is a bit of a mixed bag. That leaves the emotions, which aren’t weaved into things in an organic way. It is disappointing to see something that appears to have so much passion behind it wind up feeling so manufactured.
The plot concerns a secret underwater society that is angry with Wakanda for revealing to the world the existence of Vibranium, a substance they also have in abundance. Their leader, a powerful, godlike creature who calls himself Namor, gives the Wakandans an ultimatum that could result in war. With the Black Panther dead, Wakanda has never been more vulnerable.
One of the best things in the first Black Panther was how strong the women were (an element the MCU has otherwise had issues with). Without T’Challa, it is the women of Wakanda who are forced to take over. Thankfully, Wakanda Forever foregrounds them even more. Ramonda and Shuri now rule Wakanda and Okoye is still the nation’s trusted defender. Nakia also has a significant role to play and they introduce brilliant teenage scientist Riri Williams, who is going to be a major character going forward. The main male characters are either there to support the women (M’Baku or CIA agent Everett Ross) or, in Namor’s case, oppose them. The women stand on their own this time, both in their grief and in their fight to protect their home.
That is very welcome and the cast is definitely up for it. Angela Bassett again impresses as Ramonda. She has been given a pair of solid speeches where she gets to display her anger, sadness and power and she knocks them out of the park. Danai Gurira continues to be an awesome action hero as Okoye, even if her arc isn’t as satisfying. Letitia Wright doesn’t really get to do a lot as Shuri. The smartass genius is now depressed and angry. The outline of her arc is good, yet its conclusion somehow lacks the impact it should have.
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever does get points for attempting to do something new. It wants to be more than just another action spectacular. It honors Chadwick Boseman, and T’Challa, respectfully, in a story that, at its core, is about how hard it can be to move on from a personal loss. I am sure many reviews will make note of its length (149 minutes, plus a mid-credit scene), but any movie feels long if you’re not enjoying it. If you are, then it is more of something good. I didn’t enjoy it, though I wouldn’t say it felt interminable. The performances and themes work, as does some of the spectacle. If the overall package ends up overstuffed and empty of substance, well, the MCU is like that sometimes.
2½ out of 5
Letitia Wright as Shuri
Angela Bassett as Ramonda
Danai Gurira as Okoye
Lupita Nyong’O as Nakia
Dominique Thorne as Riri
Tenoch Huerta as Namor
Winston Duke as M’Baku
Martin Freeman as Everett Ross
Directed by Ryan Coogler
Screenplay by Ryan Coogler and Joe Robert Cole