The first Black Panther was much more than a film. It was a cultural and global phenomenon, making more than $1.3 billion in the box office, inspiring a nationwide fundraiser to send kids to free screenings and even becoming the first film to screen in a Saudi Arabian theater in 35 years.
On its own, Black Panther is a near impossible film to follow. When you add the fact that titular star Chadwick Boseman tragically and suddenly passed away in 2020, the idea of a sequel film felt inconceivable. And yet, because it’s part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and because the first film planted so many seeds for more Wakandan stories, a sequel was also inevitable. It’s in that paradox that Wakanda Forever exists.
There’s never been a film approached with so much trepidation by fans. Much of those worries were alleviated when the first teaser trailer was released at San Diego Comic-Con in July. With the flawlessly crafted trailer, Marvel Studios seemed to declare that director Ryan Coogler and his team were up to the daunting task of following the first Black Panther film. They were right.
Somehow Coogler and the returning cast of Letitia Wright, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Angela Bassett and Winston Duke did it, creating a film that is emotional, enthralling and most of all, unapologetic.
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever premieres exclusively in theaters November 11, 2022. Some spoilers below.
In Marvel Studios’ “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever,” Queen Ramonda (Angela Bassett), Shuri (Letitia Wright), M’Baku (Winston Duke), Okoye (Danai Gurira) and the Dora Milaje (including Florence Kasumba) fight to protect their nation from intervening world powers in the wake of King T’Challa’s death. As the Wakandans strive to embrace their next chapter, the heroes must band together with the help of War Dog Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o) and Everett Ross (Martin Freeman) and forge a new path for the kingdom of Wakanda. Introducing Tenoch Huerta Mejía as Namor, ruler of a hidden undersea nation, the film also stars Dominique Thorne, Michaela Coel, Mabel Cadena and Alex Livinalli. “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever,” directed by Ryan Coogler and produced by Kevin Feige and Nate Moore, opens in U.S. theaters Nov. 11, 2022.
Wakanda Forever is a cathartic experience. There are many ways Coogler could have handled the loss of Boseman. Recasting the role of T’Challa has been a topic of much debate on social media and fan circles for years now. But even after producer Nate Moore announced that T’Challa would not be recast, the issue of how the film would approach T’Challa’s absence remained.
It might have been easiest to avoid conclusively dealing with the character’s fate, simply having T’Challa missing or incapacitated. Instead, Wakanda Forever embraces the difficult issue, addressing T’Challa’s death early, and allowing the characters (and audience) to process his loss over the course of the story. As with many things in life, the direct approach turned out to be the best one, as Coogler is able to tell his story without having to bear the weight of having the franchise’s main character in limbo.
Wakanda Forever is about loss and healing. A story that featured a recasted T’Challa, or one that demurred on properly addressing his fate, would have felt disingenuous compared to this film.
The void that was left by Boseman and T’Challa isn’t filled by any one person or character. Instead, Wakanda Forever is an ensemble film, with powerful performances by Angela Bassett, Lupita Nyong’o and Letitia Wright. Bassett is an emotional force, making her presence felt in every scene and infusing the film with much-needed confidence.
Wright, who many expected to carry the torch, delivers a performance that is worthy of Boseman’s legacy. Her personal growth as an actor is mirrored in Shuri’s development from the precocious scientist we saw in the first film to the burgeoning leader that we meet in the sequel. If Queen Ramonda is the strength of Wakanda, Shuri is the heart. From her hilarious dynamic with Danai Gurira’s Okoye, to her mentoring of newcomer Riri Williams (Dominique Thorne), Shuri is the linchpin that connects all of the relationships that are so critical throughout the film.
The central relationship in the story is between Shuri and the Talokan king Namor (Tenoch Huerta). The two share an unexpected chemistry that teeters between empathetic and hostile, and each moment feels like it could lead to a powerful alliance or all out war.
The Talokanil, introduced for the first time in the MCU, are an imposing group. A fictional society inspired by Mesoamerican cultures, the Talokanil are fierce, yet regal. Fans of Namor, one of the oldest characters in Marvel comics, will be pleased. This version isn’t exactly the character we see in comics (not many in the MCU are), but Huerta certainly embodies the brash spirit of the undersea monarch.
For a film about pain, it’s appropriate that you can see some of its scars. After filming through the pandemic, and suffering a setback following a significant injury by Letitia Wright, Wakanda Forever has moments that feel rushed or underdeveloped, particularly in the third act.
M’Baku’s (Winston Duke) characterization suffers the most. He’s as charming, sarcastic and hilarious as expected, but has jarring shifts as the film progresses. It feels like his role was originally intended to be smaller, but a creative shift sought to expand his presence later on. It’s hard to complain about more Duke, who routinely makes the most out of every second of screen time he’s given, but M’Baku deserved better development.
The behind-the-scenes challenges can also be felt with Shuri’s characterization. While overall a strength of the film, her story in the third act would have benefited from more time.
The film, already at a 2 hour and 41 minute runtime, should have been longer. With so many elements to manage, between T’Challa’s death, introducing the Talokanil and showing the development of the returning Wakandans, this is one of the rare cases where a 3 hour film was necessary.
Like its predecessor, Wakanda Forever is another crowning achievement in diverse story-telling. The firm of course boasts one of the most accomplished international Black casts of any film, but it also seamlessly introduces another diverse culture highlighted by Mexican actors Tenoch Huerta, Alex Livinalli and Mabel Cadena.
As with the first film, the exceptional diversity extends beyond the screen, with diverse creatives like producer Nate Moore, production designer Hannah Beachler and costume designer Ruth E. Carter returning. Joe Robert Cole once again wrote the screenplay with Ryan Coogler.
Black Panther and Wakanda Forever continue to show the kind of exceptional work that a diverse team can produce when given the proper support, resources and a safe space.
THE RATING – 4.5/5 Pocky
Ron is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of POC Culture. He is a big believer in the power and impact of pop culture and the importance of representation in media.