BLACK PANTHER: WAKANDA FOREVER review by Mark Walters – Marvel’s highly anticipated sequel is heavy stuff

BLACK PANTHER: WAKANDA FOREVER review by Mark Walters – Marvel’s highly anticipated sequel is heavy stuff

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Since BLACK PANTHER was released in 2018, and made a billion dollars in global box office, a sequel was absolutely inevitable. Then tragedy struck, the leading star Chadwick Boseman passed away from cancer, and the creatives at Marvel Studios were faced with an unbelievable decision… how do you move forward? Producer Kevin Feige stated rather definitively they were not going to recast the title role with a new actor, but director Ryan Coogler seemed to have an idea on how to continue the franchise while being respectful of Boseman’s loss. In the Marvel comic books featuring BLACK PANTHER, the character of Shuri (King T’Challa’s sister played by Letitia Wright, who because a fan-favorite in the first film) had actually taken over as Black Panther, so it seemed like that could be a natural plot device for a sequel. But the big hook of the new film is the introduction of Namor, Marvel’s first superhero character in comics, and one we’ve yet to see brought to life on the big screen. BLACK PANTHER: WAKANDA FOREVER has its work cut out for it, finding a way to move things forward and honor Chadwick, while introducing another very important character in the process. The end result is… pretty complex.

I’m going to do my best to avoid major spoilers, but it’s hard to talk about a film like this without covering at least a few major plot points. I promise I won’t give away some of the biggest moments, out of respect for those who want to go in as fresh as possible.

The new film opens with Shuri (Wright) frantically trying to develop a cure for T’Challa (mentioned by not shown), who is dying from an undefined sickness. Due to the events of the first film, in which Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) destroyed all of the remaining herbs that gave the Black Panther his power, she is now very challenged with her scientific achievements. Queen Ramonda (Angela Bassett) enters the room and informs Shuri that T’Challa has passed. The nation of Wakanda is devastated and must bury their king and protector. Shortly after, Ramonda visits the United Nations, where multiple countries are aggressively asking for Wakanda to share their resources, in particular their supply of Vibranium, which could be used to develop incredible weapons. We soon learn a deep sea expedition has discovered what appears to be Vibranium at the bottom of the ocean, but before they can collect it, they’re attacked by blue-skinned sea warriors sporting Aztec-like markings. These mysterious people who live in a sprawling underwater city are led by Namor (Tenoch Huerta), a very powerful mutant who fears no one. Namor visits Ramonda and Shuri in Wakanda, and informs them that both of their homes are threatened, and they should form an alliance to protect themselves against those who threaten their safety. Ramonda does not agree with his methods, but feels compelled to do what he says, which tasks her people to track down the “scientist” who developed the tech used to find the underwater Vibranium. Shuri and General Okoye (Danai Gurira) head to America where they find college student Riri Williams (Dominique Thorne), a young woman who is a technical wizard, but didn’t know her creation was being used for its current purpose. Namor feels killing this scientist will eliminate the threat, but Shuri wants to protect her. This eventually leads to Wakanda being forced into battle with Namor’s people, and with no king to protect them now.

While the mystery of who would become the new Black Panther (we’re shown glimpses in the trailers) had been kept under wraps for a while, it seems like Marvel Studios isn’t really shying away from it much anymore. And when you think about it, the natural answer is right there in front of us anyway. These Marvel movies do tend to stick pretty close to the comics, and this new Black Panther adventure is no exception, though the portrayal and background of Namor is quite different from what most comic fans may know. WAKANDA FOREVER is at times a very emotional story, and definitely covers the pain of losing Chadwick Boseman as its lead, but it’s also trying really hard to be a more exciting and layered movie than the first one, and that ambition sometimes leads to a over-packed and somewhat messy script. There’s a lot to deal with here – the loss of the leading character, the aftermath of the Thanos finger snap and five-year absence of certain folks, the introduction of a new underwater society, the introduction of a new superhero/antihero in Namor, the introduction of a new superhero in Riri Williams, and the politics and world dealings of Wakanda now without a king. It’s a LOT to keep up with, and the film’s two hour and 41-minute run time does its best to keep things moving, but while the pacing is mostly brisk the screenplay does feel a bit bogged down and talky. There’s also some odd choices made on who to focus on at any given moment, as a BIG portion of the film stays on Queen Ramonda (and Angela Bassett is in top form here), but then the focus shifts to Namor, and later to Shuri… and certain characters like Riri Williams (I actually really liked Dominique Thorne in the role) or Okoye feel a little forgotten or underused. The character of Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o), who was T’Challa’s lover in the first movie, is back here but feels shoehorned in halfway through the movie, and isn’t given very much to do. Another fan favorite character, M’Baku (the wonderful Winston Duke), is peppered throughout the film, but never seems to have any scenes of real weight. Tenoch Huerta is really good as Namor, probably the most interesting character in the film, and he establishes this role in a big way, though I’m not sure where else they can take him from here… at least not without a major sort of redemption arc.

I guess you could say this is ultimately Shuri’s movie, or at least becomes that by the end, though it’s shaky getting to that point. Letitia Wright is very likable in the role, but her tiny build makes her hard to buy in tough action scenes, and that sense of fun and adventure she had in the first movie is lost her due to her mourning the loss of her brother. In fact that loss of T’Challa actually puts a dark cloud over a lot of the movie, as it’s hard to find much of a pleasant journey with the lingering thought of the leader suddenly being gone. The film feels more heavy than engaging. The performances are strong, and director Ryan Coogler knows how to make his actors shine, but other aspects suffer, like heavily edited action scenes that play like they were chopped to avoid an R-rating… there are literally scenes where characters will have bloody cuts on their face suddenly, but we never see them getting those cuts, and in some of the more intense moments I had a hard time telling what was even going on. There must be a fuller cut of this film that makes those scenes play better, because what I saw was much more sloppy than the first movie. That said, the special effects are much more impressive and polished, and you can tell they stepped it up with the visuals on this one. The music by composer Ludwig Göransson is also great here, doing some really experimental things and elevating certain scenes to bigger effect.

I didn’t think WAKANDA FOREVER was a bad movie by any means, it’s actually very well done in most aspects, but it also feels lacking and at times really dense. The first BLACK PANTHER was a fun ride, and really exciting. This movie tries really hard to be a thrill ride, but the action sequences just don’t quite land the same, and there’s not a lot of “fun” in between. I’m sure it was hard finding the right balance of being respectful in the wake of losing Baseman, and also trying to make a film that does justice to all of the character we already know, but I’m not sure the sequel sticks the landing. As it is, it’s an impressive production that in admirable in its ambitions, and I imagine most will just appreciate seeing many of these faces again. There are a few scenes in particular that give us the emotional release we’ve all needed to say goodbye to Chadwick, and if this movie accomplishes nothing else, it’s important for that reason alone. I may not have loved everything about it, but I’d gladly watch more stories in this world.

BLACK PANTHER: WAKANDA FOREVER opens November 11, 2022

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About the Author

Born and raised in Dallas, Mark has been a movie critic since 1994, with reviews featured in print, radio and National TV. In 2001 he started the Entertainment section of the Herorealm website, where he contributed film reviews and celebrity interviews until 2004. After three years of service there, he started, which has become one of the Dallas film community's leading information websites. Bigfanboy hosts several movie screenings in the Texas area, and works closely with film and TV studios and promotional partners to host exciting events and contests. The site also features a variety of rare celebrity and filmmaker interviews, and regularly covers the film festival circuit as well. In addition to Hollywood reporting, Mark has worked for many years as an advertising and sci-fi/comic book artist. Clients have included Lucasfilm Ltd., Topps Trading Cards, The Dallas Mavericks and The Dallas Stars. From 2002 until 2015 he managed the Dallas Comic Con, Sci-Fi Expo and Fan Days events in the DFW area. He currently catalogs rare comic books and movie memorabilia for Heritage Auctions, and runs the Dallas Comic Show conventions, but remains an avid moviegoer and cinema buff.