‘Black Panther: Wakanda Forever’- Film Review (Non-Spoiler): The MCU’s Most Mature Sequel By Far

2022 has seen the Marvel Cinematic Universe at its most tired during Phase 4 for many fans. All the projects we’ve seen in theaters or at home haven’t reached the status of great (minus a few), whereas reactions seemed to range from mostly positive, leading to major divisiveness (annoyingly, I must add). Thankfully, the long-running franchise reached a milestone with its 30th/ last film in this phase, which Black Panther: Wakanda Forever holds the honor of possibly bringing back fans to the excitement that’s been missing for a brief period. 

It’s been over a year since the kingdom of Wakanda lost the powerful King T’Chalia to an unknown illness. Shuri (Letitia Wright) struggles to deal with his death by focusing her attention on work, while her mother, Ramonda (Angela Bassett), is now taking on leadership as the country’s leader. The world hasn’t taken kindly to the hidden country when their most valuable resource, Vibranium, isn’t being accessed by anyone aside from them, nor having anyone take the mental as the next Black Panther. Yet there’s an entire underwater civilization called Talokan with Namor, aka “K’uk’ulkan” as their ruler. Rather than taking Wakanda for what it’s worth, he wants to join forces with them, which raises tensions. 

When Black Panther was released in early 2018, it’s impressive how it quickly became one of the most popular MCU standalone movies, let alone a cultural phenomenon for a blockbuster. And not only did it win the SAG Award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture, but it also gained more respect for being the first comic book movie nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards. In addition, the film was the first MCU entry to win not one but three Oscars: Best Production Design, Costume Design, and Original Score. Sadly, Wakanda Forever faced a significant hurdle before it could start shooting. In August 2020, Chadwick Boseman passed away at age 43 from a secret battle with Colon Cancer, a death that still hits hard two years later when his performance as T’Chalia/ Black Panther is pitch-perfect in multiple appearances. 

It had to be an impossible task for director and co-writer Ryan Coogler to come up with a brand-new story to be the perfect continuation of the last and honor an actor who means so much to many out there. This can’t be simple than replacing him with another actor; he’s irreplaceable. Honestly, before July, I didn’t know my expectations for the highly anticipated release. But just from the first trailer (the best of the year, by the way), you know it’ll be a sequel handled with care to the best of his advantage. Those fears were rested with ease as it’s a fun and impactful sequel that might not be as great as what we saw before, but a worthy comic book film to remember. 

All that trust was in Coogler’s hands in delivering a more mature superhero movie, even more so than the first, as if they allowed him to make this the best to his advantage, able to stand on its own. It’s had to be difficult to make another movie after a mega-successful superhero movie without our title lead. However, the results are a sequel that’s much different from what we’ve seen. Someone like him can tackle the pretty simple MCU formula by taking his time to create this underlying theme of how we’re supposed to handle grief and what we must do to live to keep us on track in the most mature manner. What happens when a country loses its king? 

Nearly all the characters operate as a stand-in for the audience as they continue living their lives despite living in a world with T’Challa. All I’ll say is they addressed this right from the opening that left me unprepared to the point it had me tearing up at the beginning and near the film’s closing. And it was done that was the honor of Boseman’s legacy the way he probably would’ve wanted so emotionally earned and let it simmer throughout the runtime. At times, I’d applaud Coogler, who also wrote the script with Joe Robert Cole again, for making a film that’s almost in contrast to the MCU’s last two movies, especially within its themes.

Letitia Wright is at the film’s core, taking center stage, but it was unsure how she’ll do when given a meatier role as Shuri. Taking the controversy over her stance on vaccines aside, she is at her best here when we’re dealing with a Shuri still not over the fact she lost her older brother. She’s handling this performance through pain and revenge, making her growth more interesting than just another genius. Really, the women in the ensemble are much of the conversation in this. Lupita N’yongo’s Nakia goes through a different life after losing the love of her life. Angela Bassett as Queen Ramona gets more to do when she gives an incredible speech in the Wakandian throne room that’ll make you feel her pain. Danai Gurira as Okoye started off with a strong character arc and almost became a major standout from the ensemble, only to see herself left out in the middle, which was a bummer, but she shares some good banter with Wright in their scenes together. There’s also Winston Duke returning as M’Baku and Michaela Coel as Aneka, who didn’t have much to do, unfortunately. 

The film introduces a brand new character into the franchise with Riri Williams/ Ironheart (Dominique Thorne), this 19-year-old MIT student who’s a genius that invented a device to detect Vibranium. Honestly, she’s a more engaging character with a personality to follow than America Chavez in Multiverse of Madness. She’s there to set her up for the future, where she’ll continue to appear in the upcoming Disney+ series Ironheart

And our main villain is Namor, played by Tenoch Huerta. So unfamiliar with the actor and the character from the comics, it had to take me overnight to think about him over everybody else. Namor is one of Phase 4’s strongest villainous and humanity presences, with a responsibility to manage his people when it feels threatened. He is seen as a God-like figure to them, as he not only breathes on land, he can fly with wings on his ankles and carries superhuman powers. Do I consider him better than Killmonger? He’s better, but I got to give these two movies in the franchise credit for having villains with understandable motivations and who don’t view themselves as the bad guys. He was more fleshed out than I thought when it gives Namor a backstory. A part of me imagined if he and T’Challa faced off in another reality. 

One of the biggest criticisms of the first movie was the CGI, which still doesn’t hold up after watching it again on the day of our screening. Here, the visuals are a little better, albeit still having a few background shots that were a little off. That said, the world of Wakanda still amazes in bringing it to life once more, and the underwater kingdom of Talokan was beautiful to witness. And it’s not necessarily an all-too-serious movie when it takes advantage of improving on some exciting action sequences in between. Then when it comes to them, it’s spectacular with a much bigger scale than before. There’s not a lot of it when it centers on the Wakanda/ Talokan conflict, but just as the climatic battle ignites, it gets more exciting till the last second. Ludwig Göransson’s score might be even better than what he did in the first, which captured him his Oscar. 

Sitting as the second longest-running MCU film, clocking in at 161 minutes, this has a slow burn pace during the second act. It’s one of the more character-driven stories where it didn’t need to tact on the action. I don’t think I felt the length, but they could’ve shaved off by 20 minutes. And though I can’t complain about Martin Freeman’s CIA agent Everett K. Ross, he didn’t have the best subplot here since it takes away from the dramatic heft, and those were probably the only comedic timings I didn’t care about. That could’ve been taken out to use his character better. And there was a decision made that I hoped didn’t come to and it happened too quickly to let it sink in. 

Will I be up for a third movie if the time comes? Maybe we don’t need one, and I don’t think Coogler would be down to do one after this. We’re already getting a series about Wakanda, but if he’s not busy, he could be perfect for Avengers: Secret Wars. He can’t do any wrong. Are we looking at a sequel that could land a Best Picture nomination? The original was lucky that the Academy finally paid attention to a comic book movie on this scale. It’s possible, but we should see where the reactions will land at the end of the year. However, they will nominate it for Costume Design for Ruth Carter, maybe Visual Effects, and Best Original Song for Rihanna’s first song in six years “Life Me Up (played over the credits),” where she could face off against Lady Gaga.

Overall, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever has Ryan Coogler bringing together one of the more respectful sequels in the MCU. It is neither perfect nor better than its predecessor, but it honors Chadwick Boseman beautifully and plays as an examination of legacy and moving forward. But out of the two, this resonates as the most emotionally attached. Fans have been all up and down with Phase 4, yet they’ll undoubtedly see this as the studio’s strongest outing. And yes, there’s one post-credit scene worth staying for since I believe it’s the best out of the three Marvel releases this year.

Grade: [B+]

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever will be released in theaters on November 11, 2022. Runtime: 161 Minutes. Rated PG-13 for sequences of strong violence, action and some language. Studio: Marvel Studios.

2 thoughts on “‘Black Panther: Wakanda Forever’- Film Review (Non-Spoiler): The MCU’s Most Mature Sequel By Far

  1. Great review. Sound like a great sequel from what I’ve being hearing and your review confirms that. Will definitely see the movie this weeknd.

    Like

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