Wakanda Forever has an uphill climb. The Black Panther franchise lost the much-beloved Chadwick Boseman. The superhero is also gone. The remaining characters and the audience are still grieving.
With a script approved by Boseman’s family, director Coogler and filmmaker Joe Robert Cole decided to use the grief as a way to propel the story forward. A year after Wakanda’s protector is gone, the entire world sees the hidden kingdom as vulnerable. And there are dark forces ready to exploit them for their all-powerful vibranium.
One of those threats comes from a newly revealed underwater society called Talocan. They also have vibranium and are led by the near god-like, Namor (Tenoch Huerta). Knowing that only Wakanda could stand against them in their designs to destroy the rest of the world, this ominous civilization gives T’Challa’s family (Angela Basset’s Queen Ramona and Letitia Wright’s Princess Shuri) an ultimatum: join forces against the rest of the world, or we’ll destroy you first.
What results is a very compelling storyline that forces Queen Ramona and Shuri to deal with this crisis while still trying to mourn their dead. This all helps us deal with Boseman’s tragic death AND move the Black Panther franchise forward. The grieving element could have been sappy, but instead, it brought us deeper into Shuri who becomes the focus of the film.
Wright has brought the right amount of gravity to the role, while still retaining Shuri’s charming and incorrigible personality. Her growth still comes regardless of her bad decisions and yearning for revenge. Strong performances from the rest of the cast (Lupita Nyong’O, Danai Gurira, Martin Freeman, Martin Duke, and especially Basset, “I am Queen of the most powerful nation in the world! And my entire family is gone! Have I not given everything?!”) round out this heavyweight movie.
A mildly likable new character Riri (Dominique Thorne), is introduced as a college student genius (AKA Ironheart) who will headline her own series next year on Disney+. The sassy, non-Wakandan becomes a person of great value, and threat to Namor and his deep sea people.
There isn’t an element of filmmaking that isn’t done well. The cinematography is a little grittier at times and it feels right. Ludwig Görranson’s score soars in the right places and when we finally hear Rihanna’s ‘Lift Me Up’, it’s a welcome release for all of us. Side note: bravo to business-person Rihanna for getting a reference to her Fenti makeup line written into the script! Visual effects are stunning and will result in comparisons to the Avatar sequel. Costume and sound design are impeccable (with the small exception of scenes underwater where dialogue has to compete with sound effects, reverb, and unfamiliar accents).
Credit to the Marvel machine for maintaining the mystery of who will wear the Black Panther suit through most of the film. The screenplay also keeps things multi-dimensional by giving all characters compelling reasons for their actions, even if evil. They’ve also created plenty to work with, both for Black Panther and other characters on their own.
Even at a running time of 2:44, the movie never has you looking at your phone. Enjoy the film in IMAX if you can, it’s worth it. Doing the near impossible, the MCU has assured us we’ll enjoy Wakanda forever!
8.5 (out of 10)