Black Panther: Wakanda Forever review – A film about life, death, and rebirth
Chadwick Boseman’s spirit lives on in this rousing sequel.
From the outset, a cloud of sadness engulfs the latest Marvel movie, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.
King T’Challa – the leader of the fictional African nation Wakanda, also known as the agile superhero Black Panther – is dying of an unspecified illness. Before long, Wakandans are mourning his loss in the streets. This sudden departure will be no surprise, given actor Chadwick Boseman, who played T’Challa, passed away in 2020 of colon cancer.
Actors have been replaced in the MCU before (Terrence Howard’s role in Iron Man was recast with Don Cheadle, for example), but this is different. Director and co-writer Ryan Coogler makes the right choice to retire the character, something that inadvertently spins the story in a bold new direction. Moving the action on a year, we learn that T’Challa’s mother Queen Ramonda (Angela Bassett) is now in charge, although Wakanda is vulnerable to raids on its precious resources - notably, Vibranium.
While it was always thought that Wakanda was the only source of this rare metal, the turns out not to be the case when the US discovers a stockpile under the ocean surface. As Ramonda soon learns, this belongs to a hitherto undetected underwater nation, Talokan. The leader Namor (the superbly charismatic Mexican-born star Tenoch Huerta) evades Wakandan defence forces to pay Ramonda a visit, threatening dire consequences unless she and her people help protect this secret, Atlantis-like world.
Together with T’Challa’s brainy younger sister Shuri (Letitia Wright) and the warrior-leader Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o), they must navigate this delicate situation, which has already escalated after Namor issues a deadly sonic attack on the mining ship that is drilling for Vibranium. While the mantle of Black Panther must be upheld, the key to all this might be Riri Williams (Dominique Thorne), a student scientist who invented a Vibranium detector and, for good measure, an armoured suit that would make Iron Man proud.
The scene where Shuri and Okoye (Danai Gurira) pay her a visit on campus (barely bothering to blend in amongst the other undergraduates) is one of the film’s more amusing high points. Coogler’s film, co-scripted with Joe Robert Cole, may not be the wittiest MCU entry, but it has its moments. Witness the riposte made when a Wakandan spies a white character in handcuffs: "A coloniser in chains – now I have seen everything."
As you might expect, there will be surprise cameos, familiar from the MCU and the world of Black Panther, but Wakanda Forever is not a film that exactly plays by the Marvel movie formula. Even the post-credits sting offers something different to the usual smarmy in-joke or introduction of a B-List villain. This may only be Coogler’s fourth movie as a director, but he’s operating on a level that suggests he wants more from his comic book movies.
The female-driven fight scenes might have slightly been gazumped by The Woman King recently (what a double bill that and Wakanda Forever would make), but they’re still rousing to watch. British actress Michaela Coel, the creator/star of I May Destroy You, even gets in on the action as a Wakandan warrior Aneka, a character who first appeared in the comics back in 2009.
Perhaps the greatest compliment you can make to the film is that Chadwick Boseman’s spirit lives on through the movie. Occasional clips of him appear, and he is the sole character featuring in the Marvel logo credits at the beginning. In a film about life, death, and rebirth, the handling of his passing is done with real class. "Vengeance has consumed us," remarks Shuri at one point. Maybe so, but there’s a lot of love in this film, too.
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