Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, A (Spoiler Free) Review
By Chris M. Barkley: (Author’s Note: I wish to state for the record that I, like many others, would have preferred that the role of T’Challa, the King of Wakanda, had been recast for this film. Alas, he was not. But, we do have THIS film to review and I do so gladly and without (too much) bias or reservation. I hope you enjoy it.)
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (4/4 stars) with Angela Bassett, Letitia Wright, Tenoch Huerta, Lupita Nyong’o, Winston Duke, Danai Gurira, Martin Freeman and Julia Louis-Dreyfus. Screenplay by Ryan Coogler and Joe Robert Cole, Directed by Ryan Coogler.
Bechdel Test Rating: OFF THE CHARTS!
Since the turn of the current century, I can personally account for only a few films that have transcended being “only a movie” and have been genuine, world changing, cultural events. And most of them have been either genre, or genre-adjacent, films.
My own personal list includes Casino Royale (2006), The Dark Knight (2008), Avatar (2009), The Avengers (2012), Frozen (2013) Mad Max: Fury Road (2015), the Academy Award winning (for Best Original Screenplay) Get Out (2017) and Crazy Rich Asians (2018).
But the last culturally significant film on my list, Black Panther (also released in 2018), was also one of the best. Not only was it the very first superhero film to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture, it was also honored with six other nominations (and winning three, for Costume Design, Production Design and Original Score) and earned almost 1.35 billion dollars at the box office.
But, beyond its many accolades and numerous semi-trailers full of cash, it was a moment where the spotlight shone brightly on creative people of color in the motion picture industry.
And much of the success of Black Panther was due to the efforts of writer/director Ryan Coogler, screenwriter Joe Robert Cole and an astounding supporting cast featuring Andy Serkis, Forest Whitaker, Winston Duke, Dani Guriria, Daniel Kauuya, Angela Bassett, Letitia Wright, Lupita Nyong’o and Michael B. Jordan.
But above all the others, Black Panther was carried on the magnificent shoulders of the late Chadwick Boseman, who died of colon cancer in August of 2020.
The cast and crew of the film and the whole world at large mourned his passing.
Now Coogler and Cole had a big problem; how could they proceed with expanding the story of Wakanda without its emotional and charismatic north star.
But bravely, and with many, MANY trepidations between themselves and studio executives at Marvel and Disney, they did.
According to Ryan Coogler, the original plan was to have King T’Challa, who was dusted along with half the universe with Thanos’ snap (in Avengers: Infinity War) had returned to Wakanda, trying to make up for the lost time away from his kingdom for five years. Because while he was gone, a new threat had arisen…
In the opening moments of Wakanda Forever, King T’Challa’s absence is dealt in a swift and devastating manner; Shuri (Letitia Wright) is in her laboratory, fervently trying to come up with a treatment for her severely ailing brother. But moments later, her mother, the Sovereign Queen Ramonda (Angela Bassett), sadly announces that the King has joined the ancestors.
A year later, there is still no successor to T’Challa’s Black Panther to protect Wakanda. The Dora Milaje forces, headed up by General Okoye (Dani Gurira) are holding their own against powerful nations, including the United States, who are eager to obtain and exploit the mysterious extraterrestrial mineral vibranium, the source of Wakanda’s strength and security.
But it turn out that Wakanda is not the only nation state with vibranium; a mysterious flying stranger named Namor (Tenoch Heurta) appears before Ramonda and Shuri, demanding that they help him keep his underwater kingdom of Talokan a secret and their sworn fealty to assist him in case they engage in a war against the surface dwellers he hates and fears.
And, as he amply, and violently demonstrates throughout the film, Namor will do anything AND everything to protect his people…
Namor, also known as the Sub-Mariner of Atlantis to generations of comics fans, was created by writer/artist Bill Everett, appeared in Marvel Comics #1 in August of 1939, was THE first comic book anti-hero. “Namor’s goal wasn’t to rescue kittens or punch criminals — it was to lead an Atlantean army against the air-breathers of America,” stated veteran comics writer Mark Waid to the New York Times in 2019.
As such, Namor was the prototype of many of the conflicted villains that would be created by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko and a host of other Marvel writers and artist creators a generation later.
But Coogler and Cole have repurposed Namor’s origin and those of his people as descendants from the Yucatan region off the coast of Mexico instead of the mythic realm of Atlantis. His fears, of discovery and the threat of exploration and colonization by the surface dwellers, are highly relatable under the circumstances, even more so than Killmonger’s nationalistic motives were in Black Panther.
Of particular interest is the introduction of a new character in the MCU, Riri Willams (Dominique Thorne), an M.I.T. student and engineering genius who is a target of Namor’s attention. She’s paired with Shuri for a great deal of the film and although she seems to be in over her head most of the time, she handles herself well and her great chemistry in her scenes with Wright make her the perfect foil to Shuri’s all too sure scientist. (And, rest assured, Williams will be back in her own Disney + show next year!)
Also lurking along the edges of the action are Wakanda’s C.I.A. ally Everett Ross (Martin Freeman) who is saddled with his all too nosy boss, Valentina Allegra de Fontaine (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), a quasi-villainous character who was last seen recruiting disgraced the ex-Captain America/U.S. Agent John Walker (Wyatt Russell) for nefarious purposes in the Marvel +’s tv production of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. But this all too brief appearance by Fontaine is actually an easter egg that promises a MCU payoff somewhere down the line as well.
And, I can guarantee that there are a few other narrative surprises that will take your breath away.
But of all of the performances in Wakanda Forever, I would be very disappointed if Angela Bassett is not given any consideration by the Screen Actors Guild, the Golden Globes and the Academy Awards next year. Her dual portrait of a grief stricken mother and a political force to be reckoned with is a wonder to behold and should be rewarded as such. She is the heart of Wakanda Forever.
It is my belief that Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is not only the best MCU movie since the first Black Panther, it is also one of the outstanding and entertaining films of 2022.
I went in not knowing what to expect and came out not only pleasantly surprised but immensely pleased that this was not only a brilliant, stand alone sequel but a tearful and loving tribute to the memory of Chadwick Boseman as well.
This Marvel film has a single, mid-credits scene. And I am not exaggerating when I tell you that it is one of the most unexpected and touching things I have ever seen committed on film.
Excelsior, Marvel and movie fans.
Dedicated to the
Chadwick Aaron Boseman (November 29,1976 – August 28, 2020)
Kevin Conroy (November 30, 1955 – November 10, 2022)
Here is a helpful article suggesting the chronological order you should view of all THIRTY (and counting) films of the Marvel Cinematic Universe: “Marvel movies in order: How to watch all 30, even ‘Black Panther 2’” at USA Today.