Black Panther: Wakanda Forever spoiler-packed review: A spectacular and emotionally charged sequel

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. © 2022 MARVEL.
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. © 2022 MARVEL. /

*Warning: The following review contains major spoilers for Black Panther: Wakanda Forever*

I remember the day Chadwick Boseman passed away like it was yesterday. Not long after I had rewatched the first movie in preparation for the next phase of the Marvel Cinematic Universe during the COVID-19 lockdown, the news broke that Boseman had passed away of colon cancer and had been privately dealing with the disease for the past four years. Boseman portrayed King T’Challa in Black Panther and the MCU. The actor also stars in Marshall, 21 Bridges, Da 5 Bloods, and Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom while ill and undergoing multiple surgeries and chemotherapies privately, without the filmmakers, producers, or fellow co-stars knowing about his health.

Boseman’s death hit me harder than any celebrity death ever has, solely because of the fact that he had been ill with cancer while pouring his heart out on the screen and giving his all every day for the audience. He didn’t need to do this, but his legacy will live on greater than many contemporary actors who recently passed away. Boseman was not only a great actor, but a perfect example of resilience. Even through massive adversity, he never complained publicly and persevered no matter what. There isn’t a better model of resilience than Boseman, who gave his all on screen until it was over.

And so when Black Panther: Wakanda Forever opens with King T’Challa’s funeral, there’s genuine emotion being poured by actors Letitia Wright and Angela Bassett. They’re not necessarily mourning T’Challa, but Boseman’s legacy as an actor and what the character meant for many people when the first Black Panther movie came out. And even if you weren’t a fan of that movie, it won’t take long before you shed some tears and realize that there will be a giant hole that will never be filled in this movie, as good as it is, severely missing Boseman’s presence through every frame.

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is nothing short of exceptional

Losing a loved one is never easy, mainly when you go back to the place they once lived and they are no longer here. That reassuring presence that would fill the room is left empty, and even if you heal over time, it’ll never fully recover because the void filled with the loved one has passed.

That same realization is felt within minutes as T’Challa dies. Boseman was the emotional core that anchored the first movie and gave a performance for the ages. There is a massive void in the movie that will never be filled, no matter how great the sequel and the actors can be. But director Ryan Coogler delivers a sequel that mediates grief and how to move on in the face of death, even when all seems lost and confused. And while it doesn’t always work (more on that later), the center of Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is nothing short of exceptional and one of the most spectacular blockbusters I’ve seen all year.

A year after T’Challa’s death, Wakanda is more vulnerable than ever. Countries want to exploit Vibranium, with the CIA executing operations to find vibranium underwater. However, the mission goes wrong, as the entire team is killed by Namor (or Kukulkan) (Tenoch Huerta Mejía), who plans to destroy Wakanda if Ramonda doesn’t give him the scientist responsible for having built a vibranium-detecting machine.

That scientist is named Riri Williams (Dominique Thorne), with Shuri and Okoye (Danai Gurira) retrieving her before Namor does so. However, Shuri and Riri get kidnapped by Namor, which leads Ramonda to enlist Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o) to rescue them.

Meanwhile, the CIA, led by Valentina Allegra de Fontaine (that’s right, the Valentina Allegra de Fontaine played Julia Louis-Dreyfus), believes Wakanda is responsible for the war on Vibranium. However, Valentina doesn’t know that her ex-husband (ha!) Everett K. Ross (Martin Freeman) has secretly given out information to the Wakandans to help them find Riri. I’ll admit I did not expect to see Valentina in this movie, let alone her revelation to be the director of the CIA (which changes many things concerning the upcoming Thunderbolts film), but none of the scenes involving her, or Ross, held any interest.

While, yes, the movie does naturally set a few things up regarding the future of the MCU, with the most obvious ones being the upcoming Ironheart TV series that Dominique Thorne will lead and the rumored Okoye/Midnight Angels show, the Valentina and Everett bit feel like they belong in a different movie.

It doesn’t help that Dreyfus and Freeman feel utterly disinterested in the material they’re given, especially when they were substantial additions to the MCU in recent years. We will see them again (very) soon, but it didn’t feel like an earned setup that was desperately needed in the MCU. As mentioned above, it’s natural that there will be hints at future MCU titles, but it didn’t need to be so obvious and badly shoe-horned in like that. They hinder the film’s pace, which is already deliberately slow to make the audience ponder like the characters are and make the movie longer than it already is.

Because the rest of the movie is incredible and far more emotional than I had ever imagined. Ludwig Göransson’s score adds emotional depth to Autumn Durald Arkapaw’s beautifully composed frames (it’s great to see a Marvel movie that looks like an actual film and not a green screen-driven CGI hodgepodge), but the performances add so much to the movie. At times, it’s not an easy watch, especially when characters ponder upon Boseman.

They talk about T’Challa, but all of it can be transposed to Boseman’s legacy and the type of character he had as a public figure. The scene where Nakia tells Okoye why she didn’t come to the funeral is particularly strong, but Letitia Wright and Angela Bassett are the film’s major standouts. There has been chatter about Bassett potentially landing an Oscar nomination for her tenure as Ramonda. After seeing the movie, I can tell you that it’s possible.

It may not happen, but it’s certainly possible. Bassett has always been an incredible actor who only has one Academy Award nomination under her belt. She gives the best performance of her career as Ramonda in this sequel and is more than worthy of every single accolade she has been given. The chemistry she has with Letitia Wright’s Shuri, who is also more emotionally complex than I had imagined, is second-to-none.

Dominique Thorne’s MCU debut as Riri Williams is also memorable, with the character balancing the right amount of heart and humor (she is the funniest part of the movie, hands down), already setting up Williams as one the most exciting additions to the franchise’s Multiverse saga. The Ironheart series certainly looks great, and I hope it delivers. One thing’s for sure: Thorne was the perfect choice for the character.

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever’s action sequences are a marvel (no pun intended)

The movie also has an incredible villain in Namor, who is portrayed with impeccable grace by Tenoch Huerta Mejía. Most MCU villains are terribly one-note or an “evil” version of their protagonists. But Namor is an antagonist who has been in the works for a long time, and he’s as equally complex and menacing as he is in the comics. In the film’s most spectacular sequence, Shuri travels to Talokan with Namor, and she understands why he’s doing what he’s doing, even if she does not agree and will do everything she can to protect Wakanda.

The relationship Kukulkan has with Shuri is the film’s most interesting character dynamic, which adds massive levels of complexity when Namor kills Ramonda and exacts war on Wakanda. Their final confrontation is some of the most thrilling action I’ve seen all year — wonderfully shot and edited at a level where tension runs its highest.

The film looks particularly grandiose in IMAX 3D, and its action sequences are a marvel (no pun intended) of sight and sound. Namor’s CIA attack is a visual and aural feast, with Göransson’s hypnotizing music acting as the sonic sound that puts CIA agents in Namor’s command. The sound design and cinematography do most of the action’s heavy lifting, and there were many audible gasps at my screening at every possible turn.

Every action scene is meticulously shot to build as much tension as possible. The emotion isn’t solely brought on by the actors but by the way, Coogler can ramp up suspense through a unique spectrum of sounds and wide, sweeping shots that see the heroes in all of their glory.

When Shuri inevitably becomes the MCU’s next Black Panther, the emotional catharsis is there, and it feels more than earned. It’s also more cathartic that her vision in the astral plane wasn’t that of Ramonda but of Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan), which is the film’s most dramatic scene. Jordan reprises his role as the villain for one brief sequence, but the level of gravitas he brings to Shuri’s arc cannot be overstated. It leads into a climax set in the Atlantic Ocean that is far more exhilarating, emotionally and visually, than the first Black Panther‘s CGI rhino-driven battle.

In every aspect, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is a superior sequel to the original. Barring issues regarding Valentina Allegra de Fontaine and Everett K. Ross, the film is an aesthetically superior and emotionally-charged drama that not only acts as a moving tribute to Chadwick Boseman’s enduring legacy in and outside of the MCU but a cathartic way to express how, even amidst the challenges that grief can cause, everyone can move forward and hope for a better future when they are together.

When a character says “Wakanda Forever!” in this movie, it hits differently than when Chadwick Boseman’s T’Challa led Wakanda. I do hope that somehow, Boseman looks down upon us in pride at what this movie will do for millions of people worldwide and how he has touched all of us through his talent, his art, and his resilient strength to push forward no matter the personal challenges he faced regarding his health. And one thing is for sure: Boseman would’ve been so proud of this movie and the impact the character of Black Panther will continue to have for decades. His legacy will always shine bright with all of us.

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is now playing in theatres. 

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