Review: Black Panther: Wakanda Forever


Blank Panther: Wakanda Forever begins with Shuri (Letitia Wright) frantically trying to save Black Panther’s life yet failing to do so. The film then spends the first five minutes showing a funeral sequence for T’Challa, culminating in the Marvel Logo featuring only footage of Black Panther actor Chadwick Boseman throughout the films he appeared in in the MCU. It is impossible to separate Chadwick Boseman’s tragic passing and Wakanda Forever, leaving the film stuck in the shadow cast by Boseman. The film wasn’t that far into production at the time of his death, with apparently only a rough draft completed at the time of his passing. His death forced director Ryan Coogler and the rest of the cast to answer an uncomfortable question: how could you make a sequel to Black Panther given everything that has happened?

Removing the death of Boseman, the first film became a cultural phenomenon, garnering tons of media attention and praise. It made over a billion dollars at the box office, had a huge cast led by black actors (a rare feat in Hollywood), and eventually became the most decorated comic book film of all time at the Oscars with three wins. That’s a tough act to follow and given how Phase 4 has been generally underperforming critically, there was a lot of concern going into the film about how things would play out. There was a lot this film needed to accomplish, and it arguably does all that, but not without some major caveats.

Marvel Studios’ Black Panther: Wakanda Forever | Official Teaser

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever
Director: Ryan Coogler
Release Date: November 11, 2022
Rating: PG-13

Set one year after the sudden death of T’Challa, Wakanda is currently in a tight situation. At the end of the first film, T’Calla revealed that Wakanda has a supply of Vibranium, an ultra-powerful metal, to the world and now a lot of countries are vying to find their own supply. T’Challa’s mother, Queen Ramonda (Angela Bassett), has assumed the throne and is trying to stave off potential threats to Wakanda. One of these threats comes from an underwater nation, Talokan. Their king, Namor (Tenoch Huerta Mejia), also has a supply of Vibranium that was almost discovered due to the American’s digging along the ocean floor and is seeking to ally itself with Wakanda in a war against not only the Americans but the surface world in general. If Wakanda resists, then Namor will declare war against the surface and make Wakanda their first target as a show of force.

For the first half of the movie, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever feels like an ensemble piece. A lot of the focus is on the cast of the previous film coping with their grief after T’Challa’s passing. Some choose to bury themselves in their work, some hideaway, some bottle it up and lash out at others, and others blame themselves for not being there to help him. Getting past the obvious comparisons about how Boseman’s death was sudden and he didn’t really tell anyone about his colon cancer, the film does a decent job of displaying the different depictions of grief and giving the film space to talk about it. One instance is when Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o) has a quiet exchange with Queen Ramonda about how she wanted to come to the funeral, but she didn’t know how she could even process it given how it had been years since she’s seen T’Challa. Ryan Coogler always did a good job of exploring these characters in depth and it’s still true here.

This is also a notably more serious film than most Marvel films. There’s hardly any of that groan-worthy Marvel humor, which is for the best. This isn’t meant to be a comedy and the few jokes that are there feel natural thanks to the pre-established character dynamics. This is mostly a somber affair throughout, with the film choosing to expand on the themes of colonialism and vengeance that were present in the first movie. In truth, I really enjoyed the first half of the film. If the movie was just an exploration of grief and a farewell to Boseman’s character, I’d be pretty happy with how things turned out. That’s only the first half of the movie though. There’s still a second half.

Review: Black Panther: Wakanda Forever

Copyright: Marvel

The second half of the movie focuses on Shuri as the main character and her struggles not only with T’Challa’s legacy but also with the conflict with Namor and Talokan. Namor is a fairly well-established antagonist, taking a lot of cues from Michael B. Jordan’s Killmonger. There is no denying that he’s the villain, but he makes several points that are entirely valid and correct. It’s just a shame that they decide to take these well-thought-out points and wrap them up in a character whose only solution to the problem is genocide. While Namor may be a good character, Talokan feels very surface-level and not all that interesting of a place. The attempts to humanize the people there is a good idea but ultimately mean very little by the time the action begins.

Once the action starts up, it’s all just okay. Black Panther may have not had the prettiest special effects and fight scenes, but the thematic weight was able to stave off a lot of criticism. Not so much here. The action feels haphazard and while I did enjoy the focus on hand-to-hand combat, the end result was very unremarkable. It got the job done and larger scenes that were supposed to have an impact left me feeling ambivalent. Even the audience, who usually cheer and holler at most major Marvel scenes, was silent during the big crowd-pleasing moments.

It also doesn’t help that the film feels absolutely overstuffed. The ensemble cast was a good idea, but it balloons the runtime to two hours and 41 minutes. It is the second-longest Marvel film and it feels like it. So much of the movie drags. It got to the point where I was certain that the end of the second act was actually the end of the movie giving the gravitas of the moment, only for the film to keep going and end with a much smaller action scene. Some character arcs also feel like they barely have any presence, like Agent Ross (Martin Freeman), who simply pops in every few scenes to provide commentary that really amounts to nothing. The film also tries to make direct comparisons between Shuri and Killmonger that I think works given the boldness of the decision but could have been more effectively weaved in throughout the plot.

Review: Black Panther: Wakanda Forever

Copyright: Marvel

I get why the movie needed to be as long as it did, to successfully honor Boseman, but the film grapples with trying to honor his legacy while still trying to be a superhero action film. Not only that but when compared to the first Black Panther, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever feels like more of a standard superhero movie. That’s not really a dig at the movie. It just means that when compared to the decisions made and the direction of the first film, Wakanda Forever feels a lot safer and more in line with setting up story avenues in the MCU than telling a focused/singular story.

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is a lot better than most Phase 4 movies, but that’s not saying much. As a tribute to Boseman, it’s a great one and if the movie was just that, it could have been great. The ensemble cast delivers and the themes they address are all well-executed. But when the movie remembers that it needs to be a Marvel film, that’s when everything weakens. The action scenes are standard, the antagonists don’t feel as well-developed, and the film slogs on for far too long as it tries to do everything that is expected of a Marvel movie. With some more refinement, this could have been one of the all-time greats. Sadly, I don’t think we’ll be seeing Wakanda Forever make as big of a cultural impression as the first film.




Black Panther: Wakanda Forever succeeds at being an exploration of grief following Chadwick Boseman's passing, but gets lost in trying to also be a Marvel movie.

Jesse Lab
The strange one. The one born and raised in New Jersey. The one who raves about anime. The one who will go to bat for DC Comics, animation, and every kind of dog. The one who is more than a tad bit odd. The Features Editor.