Movie Review: Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (Spoiler-free)

What to do when the star of your billion-dollar franchise dies? That was the challenge for writer-director Ryan Coogler (CREED) as he rewrote his script for the BLACK PANTHER sequel, WAKANDA FOREVER, following the death of his friend, Chadwick Boseman, of colon cancer in 2020. On the whole, Coogler was successful, creating a story that pays deserved respect to Boseman and moves the Black Panther saga into a new phase.

If you remember from the first film, T’Challa let the cat out of the bag when he told the world that Wakanda has vibranium and now the country faces a new challenge in addition to not having a protector anymore. The Queen Mother, Ramonda (Angela Bassett, MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – FALLOUT, TV’s AMERICAN HORROR STORY), is called before the UN to give other countries access to their precious metal but she is resolute. Wakanda will keep its vibranium where it’s safe. Unfortunately, that hasn’t stopped the others from searching for their own vibranium source, which they find at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean. What no one expects, though, is that a previously unknown underwater race called the Talokans is protecting that stash and they don’t want the surface countries to have it either. To ensure that doesn’t happen, their king, Namor (Tenoch Huerta, THE FOREVER PURGE; BEL CANTO; THE 33), heads to the surface to kill the scientist who designed the underwater drill but he and his troops are stymied by Princess Shuri (Letitia Wright, DEATH ON THE NILE) and Dora Milaje leader Okoye (Danai Gurira, TV’s THE WALKING DEAD) who get to the young woman, Riri Williams (Dominique Thorne, JUDAS AND THE BLACK MESSIAH; IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK), first. While Shuri tries to negotiate a diplomatic solution with Namor, Ramonda seeks out undercover spy and T’Challa’s former lover, Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o, US), to find Shuri, thinking that her daughter is in danger. When their talks fail, the Talokans attack Wakanda and events thrust Shuri to the forefront, but her motives for taking up the mantle are mired in the loss of her brother.

WAKANDA FOREVER is a bit of mixed bag. The film starts off very strong with a completely respectful and moving tribute to Boseman, which Coogler weaves into the death of T’Challa. Both the actor and character’s absence is deeply felt throughout the film with Shuri, for all of her scientific smarts, struggling with not being able to save her brother. Ramonda, meanwhile, has to balance keeping her country safe from both internal and external enemies as she tries to both console and protect her daughter. But it’s not all dour as Coogler also throws in a few good one liners, including a couple digs at the AVATAR franchise, which comes back to our cinemas in a few weeks. Coogler tosses down the gauntlet at James Cameron’s feet with WAKANDA FOREVER’s spectacularly colourful underwater world and its blue-skinned residents.

Where WAKANDA FOREVER stumbles, however, is with its bloated runtime. (It is a MARVEL film, after all, so head to the toilet before you sit down in your seat.) A couple of scenes could have been cut altogether while the big battle sequence goes on for far too long. Another problem is that this is a story where the bad guy really isn’t so bad, which is the same problem that BLACK ADAM suffers from. Watching the battles between Namor and the Wakandans, I couldn’t help but think, “You’re fighting the wrong people!” They should be kicking the American and French butts rather than each other’s. Coogler makes the point that both Namor and Shuri are blinded by their personal losses, which causes them to lose sight of the bigger picture. Okay, fine, but that doesn’t make for an interesting battle. Namor is also fixated on killing the scientist but that won’t solve his problem. If the surface countries can create one drill, they can create two. Killing the scientist is like shooting the messenger. However, there is a method to his madness as it serves to give more screentime to Riri whose alter-ego, Ironheart, will have her own TV series next year. Once again, it’s all about milking the IP. Perhaps the biggest problem with the film, however, is its star. Wright simply doesn’t have the gravitas to carry a film like this. As a sidekick to T’Challa, Shuri was excellent. As a leader of a nation, not very inspiring. Of course, one can argue that it’s still new to her and we’ll see the character mature in BLACK PANTHER 3 (yes, there will be more Black Panther adventures), but I don’t see that the actress has the chops to pull it off convincingly. Fortunately, she may not have to but if I tell you more, that would be a spoiler.

BLACK PANTHER: WAKANDA FOREVER is not purr-fect but it’s not bad… and it’s much better than BLACK ADAM. Score another victory for MARVEL over DC.

BLACK PANTHER: WAKANDA FOREVER opens in Hong Kong today (November 9th). It opens almost everywhere else over the coming days.

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