Movie Review: ‘Black Panther: Wakanda Forever’

Director: Ryan Coogler

Cast: Letitia Wright, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Winston Duke, Florence Kasumba, Dominque Thorne, Michaela Coel, Tenoch Huerta Mejía, Martin Freeman, Julia Louis-Dreyfus

Plot: Following the death of King T’Challa of Wakanda, Princess Shuri undergoes a long period of grief and introspection whilst the wolves gather at the nations door. Tensions escalate with the appearance of Namor, ruler of a secret underwater kingdom with a strength and technology capable of waging war against Wakanda.

Review: It would be an understatement to say that this movie represents one of the biggest challenges the creators behind the MCU. Black Panther was one an absolutely massive smash hit for the franchise, turning lead Chadwick Boseman not just into a household name but an icon. He was THE Black superhero for the generation at a time when superheroes were the hottest thing on the planet. Then, tragically, Boseman died from cancer in 2020 after keeping his illness secret from the public eye. When we woke up and saw this news we immediately checked to see if this was some kind of terrible hoax, this was a guy playing action heroes and visiting sick children in hospital – it was shocking to learn that he was sick himself, let alone close to death. All the Avengers cast were riding high after the success of Infinity War and Endgame, and Boseman’s death sent shockwaves through the entertainment industry.

Back to the topic at hand, people were expecting another Black Panther movie. He was such a popular character and his solo film was box office gold, people were assuming another movie was in the works. Marvel and Disney were surprisingly tightlipped on this, however, possibly waiting to find out if their star was up to the task. It’s not uncommon for characters to be recast in between movies, with some key figures in the MCU already having been recast. Simply swapping out the actor for a newcomer was out of the question – Boseman was heavily tied to the role of T’Challa and it would be both jarring and disrespectful. You also don’t want to start over with a new character, as this movie needs to keep the overarching Black Panther and MCU stories moving on.

The solution is to bring the popular character of Princess Shuri (Wright) to the forefront. Having failed to save her brother from illness, Shuri has struggled with grief being unwilling to take the time to mourn. Instead, she throws herself into her research and development of new technologies. Her mother, Queen Ramonda (Bassett) is ruling the nation of Wakanda whilst the Dora Milaje protect their reserves of Vibranium from other world powers. Unable to get access to this powerful resource, other super-powers have been scouring the oceans with a Vibranium detector. Shuri and Ramonda are unexpectedly approached by a mysterious figure from the ocean, King Namor of the Talokan, another nation built upon access to Vibranium but existing deep under the oceans in secret. The half-human, half-Talokan mutant ruler, seen by his people as the feathered serpent god K’uk’ulkan, is strong on a level that would rival the Hulk and commands armies and weapons enough to destroy Wakanda, a threat Namor uses to push the Ramona into delivering the scientist who created the Vibranium detector.

After an investigation by Okoye (Gurira) and Shuri, they learn that the scientist is a teenaged super-genius inventor at MIT named Riri Williams (Thorne). Wakanda is now in the position of handing Riri over to Talokan for execution, or protecting her and entering into war with the potentially more powerful force. To protect their people and land, Shuri must bring back the power of the Black Panther while Riri perfects her own version of the Iron Man armour.

Being an MCU movie, you know how all this plays out. Lots of CGI spectacle, cameos, explosive actions sequences and new threads for future plots. If you’re still here for this, like us, then you’ll enjoy this new entry. It is more sombre than previous films, grief and loss being primary themes for many of the characters including the leads, but the actors do a fantastic job of walking the line between the serious aspects of the story and the comic-book chaos. Riri proves a solid foil for Shuri and Okoye and some of the most fun scenes involve them bouncing off each other. There are some interesting parallels between Shuri and Riri as they’re fundamentally similar but represent very different social experiences.

Going into the movie as a X-Men fan, one of the biggest draws is the big-screen realisation of Namor (who is described as a mutant in the movie). Namor is one of Marvel’s unquestionable powerhouses, being capable of having a punch-up with the Hulk with minimal fuss. He’s also one of the longest running Marvel characters having appeared in the first ever issue of Marvel Comics and still remaining part of canon today. Given his legacy and threat-level, you’d think he’d have turned up in the MCU before now. It’s possible that it took this long because he’s…silly. There’s no way around it, he’s silly. He’s a super buff arrogant dickhead with crazy eyebrows, little wings on his ankles and wearing nothing but a speedo. The moment he walked into a scene you’ve potentially lost the audience because he’s a guy with winged feet in a budgie-smuggler.

Having said all that, they’ve done a great job of bringing him to life here. Tenoch Huerta Mejía has the physique to convey the strength, and his costume has been supplemented with many accessories that link in to both the character’s and the movie’s story. The links to the ancient Mayan culture gives Namor a unique style compared to his comic counterpart. Much like Killmonger in the previous film, he has his backstory and motivations explored in detail, which is just as successful here.

Among everything that works well in the movie, including the addition of Namor and Ironheart to the MCU mythos, not everything falls into place. The final action scene can be difficult to keep track off with so many moving, quickly edited shots strung together. There’s a surprising number of hand-held close-up shots in the battle, making it tricky to pick up the cool details. We never get a hero shot of the new Ironheart armour, and get left with more of an impression than a clear image. The ending of the movie is left frustratingly vague, with the throne of Wakanda being unoccupied. Both Shuri and M’Baku (Duke) are left in a position to take up this role, potentially leaving it open for either performer to take up the lead role. It might not be wise to leave viewers with the impression that Wright’s publicly discussed anti-vaccine viewpoint may actually impact on her future with the franchise despite Marvel’s efforts to put a lid on the controversy.

You may not be keeping track, but this is 30th movie in this series and it concludes the fourth ‘Phase’ of the franchise. Unlike the previous two phases that built towards the battle against Thanos, it’s unclear what direction we’re going in. Still, the quality is still high and we’re still here for it.

Review: EIGHT out of TEN