"Black Panther: Wakanda Forever" Film Review
By: Nathaniel Simpson
Ryan Coogler had the difficult task of practically throwing out everything he wanted to make for the sequel to his 2018 superhero movie after the untimely death of Chadwick Boseman, who plays the titular character. Now, reeling from the death of not only a successful actor, but a friend of everyone in the cast, Coogler and the returning cast must find a way to deliver a compelling and moving story that not only furthers the story along in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but honor the late actor as well. The shadow of Boseman is present throughout this whole movie, honoring not only the character he brought to life but the man himself.
The film opens up with Shuri (Letitia Wright) working hard to save her brother from a mysterious illness, which ultimately takes his life due to the absence of the Heart-Shaper Herb, which was destroyed by Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) in the first film. This scene practically sets the tone for the movie that follows. If the first movie was a badass superhero film that empowers Black people all over the world, then this movie serves as the mourning period for such a role model and icon for everyone.
The Marvel Credits are different in this film, with images of Boseman throughout the entire opening credit sequence. From the way the filmmakers put it together, it is both heartbreaking and powerful at the same time. When going to see this film at 6:30 on the night before the movie released worldwide, it was one of those few moments where the entire theater is absolutely quiet, so quiet you can hear a pen drop. From there, the movie does a fantastic job of honoring Boseman. In a way, they put him on a pedestal, which he rightly deserves, and they never downplay or make him seem less powerful as he is no longer present. Even when they introduce the new Black Panther in the latter half of the film, they don't try to make her more powerful than Boseman's character, but rather show as that new figurehead looking up to what T'Challa was able to do in both Wakanda and around the world.
Even though everyone is still suffering and mourning following his loss, life must go on. Shuri and her mother, Queen Ramonda (Angela Bassett), must figure out how to run their country and keep them safe from the rest of the world, especially due to their supply of Vibranium, one of the strongest metals in the world. The rest of the United Nations feel threatened by the country, and want them to be held accountable for the shocking and mysterious deaths at the hand of people with this element.
However, we come to find out that there is a whole underwater country that is able to mine Vibranium and use it in their every day lives. When they find out that a college student, named Riri (Dominique Thorne), has developed a machine to detect Vibranium, the underwater people, who are ran by a winged man named Namor (Tenoch Huerta), will stop at nothing to destroy her and the machine. It is up to the Wakandians to protect the young student, as well as stopping the threat to their land and people.
Even though this wasn't the original plan, this movie became a female empowerment movie, at the same time of having those elements for the Black community. The main characters, all four who are women, show how they are badass characters and don't let powerful people, especially men, walk all over them. The women in this film, who served more as secondary protagonists alongside T'Challa, have to now step up and become the main protagonists, giving them more screen time and storylines. However, I think Bassett, Wright, Lupita Nyong'o, and Danai Gurira do an excellent job of stepping up and taking on the challenge.
All of them are such great characters and give fantastic performances as these characters. They all have excellent on-screen chemistry with one another, and a lot of fun to watch; especially Gurira, who is so effortlessly funny and has a sort of dry humor that can turn many of her scenes into the funniest of the film. I wish we had received much more screen time from Nyong'o, as she is such a badass and powerful character, but she seems to be put on the back burner for a majority of the movie.
I thought Namor was an interesting antagonist to put in this film. I'm really kinda split on how I feel about him; he serves as a powerful villain, but did he really fit the mold for this type of movie? This is nothing against Huerta, as I think he gives a powerful and larger-than-life performance, but I think this movie could have benefited more with a different antagonist.
At the same time, I think this movie definitely has some pacing and plot issues, relying too long on scenes that are not as important as others and waiting too long to get to the actual core of the story. They linger a lot on different subjects, and it's not until the last forty minutes of this movie when the viewer realizes exactly where the film is heading. I think Coogler should have tightened the script up more, but I appreciate what he delivered under the circumstance.
This is definitely not as good as the predecessor, but you can appreciate this film more than you can in the first movie. You feel the raw pain and emotion behind all of the actors' performances, and this is a fantastic send-off to the original Black Panther we watched in the previous MCU films. But, I'm sure this is a movie Boseman and his family would have been proud of.