08th Nov2022

‘Black Panther: Wakanda Forever’ Review

by Matthew Turner

Stars: Letitia Wright, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Winston Duke, Dominique Thorne, Florence Kasumba, Michaela Coel, Tenoch Huerta, Martin Freeman, Angela Bassett | Written by Ryan Coogler, Joe Robert Cole | Directed by Ryan Coogler

Director Ryan Coogler returns with this sequel to Marvel’s Black Panther (2018) which respectfully marks the passing of previous lead actor Chadwick Boseman. The result is an entertaining adventure that introduces exciting new characters and ensures the continuation of the franchise, while delivering the expected combination of comic book action, humour and emotion, in the mighty Marvel manner.

The tragic and untimely death of actor Chadwick Boseman in 2020 had a devastating impact on Marvel fans worldwide. As a mark of respect, Marvel Studios opted not to simply recast the role of T’Challa / Black Panther for the sequel. Instead, they have rewritten the script to address the fact that the character has died, and explore the impact of his death on Wakanda itself.

Wakanda Forever begins with T’Challa dying, offscreen, of an unknown illness, as his sister, science genius Shuri (Letitia Wright) tries everything in her power to save him. A year later, Shuri and Queen Ramonda (Angela Bassett) are still paralysed by grief, while Wakanda is increasingly threatened by other nations (chiefly America and France) trying to get their hands on Vibranium, now that T’Challa has revealed its existence to the world.

However, Wakanda soon faces pressure from a new threat in the form of Namor (Tenoch Huerta), the king of an ancient civilization of underwater dwelling people, who have their own supplies of Vibranium. When Namor discovers that American teenager Riri Williams (Dominique Thorne) has invented a machine capable of detecting Vibranium underwater, he kidnaps her, and forces Shuri to make a difficult choice as he prepares for war with the surface world.

Coogler and the rest of the production team have made a series of respectful choices for the way the film deals with Boseman’s death, from a quietly touching tweak to the Marvel Studios at the beginning to a powerfully moving closing scene. As a result, for fairly obvious reasons, there’s no traditional post-credits scene this time round, though there is still a story-related mid-credits scene that ends the film on a perfect note.

The excellent script, co-written by Coogler and Joe Robert Cole, explores a series of fascinating themes, from general political ideas like American military aggression and the exploitation of precious resouces in other countries, to more intimate ideas of legacy, humanity, leadership and revenge. On a similar note, the film makes an intriguing change to Namor’s origin story from the comics, linking him to the equivalent of an ancient Mayan civilisation – potentially, it’s a big risk (in that it’s one of the biggest changes the MCU have made to a classic comics character), but it works extremely well in context.

The performances are excellent across the board. Letitia Wright – already a fan favourite after Black Panther and Avengers: Endgame – effortlessly carries the film as Shuri, essentially promoted from beloved supporting character to the lead role and nailing it in every possible way. There’s also strong support from the core trio of Angela Bassett, Lupita Nyong’o (as T’Challa’s former partner, Nakia) and Danai Gurira as Okoye, the head of the Dora Milaje, Wakanda’s elite female fighting force.

The film also introduces two exciting new characters. Tenoch Huerta is simply sensational as Namor. Crucially, he’s not just a simple villain (much as in the comics) and Huerta plays him with a mixture of compassion, honour and threat, laced with off-the-scale charisma. Similarly, Dominique Thorne makes a thrilling debut as Riri Williams / Ironheart (think “teenage black girl Iron Man”), sparking great comic chemistry with Wright and Gurira in the process.

On top of that, there’s an expanded role for Winston Duke as M’Baku, as well as a nice little supporting role for Britain’s own Michaela Coel (from I May Destroy You) as Wakandan warrior Aneka, who takes a tiny but significant step forward in terms of representation for Marvel.

As for the action, Coogler and company have put a lot of thought into each sequence and there are lots of lovely little throwaway moments, like giant whales flipping underwater soldiers into the air with their tails, or the introduction of some new Vibranium-based weaponry. Accordingly, the special effects are excellent, while the production design and world building are consistently inventive and interesting, particularly in the depiction of Namor’s undersea kingdom, which could so easily have defaulted to the same sort of thing as DC’s Aquaman, but instead comes up with something completely different.

Ultimately, Wakanda Forever strikes exactly the right balance, with thrilling action, engaging humour that’s rooted in character and moments of powerful emotion – without giving too much away, the film isn’t afraid to hit hard in that respect, and it is all the stronger for doing so. There are also crowd-pleasing moments that it would be churlish to reveal here – suffice it to say that one of them, in particular, is likely to provoke a roar of approval in a crowded cinema, so see it on a big screen as soon as you can, before someone spoils it.

**** 4/5

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is released on November 11th.


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