“In my culture, death is not the end.”
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever was never originally supposed to be the movie it ended up becoming. After the tragic passing of MCU icon Chadwick Boseman, this movie needed to become something more than a sequel to Black Panther, a billion-dollar phenomenon that revolutionized the genre.
Ryan Coogler and his team were challenged to deliver a movie that pays tribute to their fallen leading man while also evolving this franchise to continue in his honor. And they have done just that.
Letitia Wright, Angela Bassett, Lupita Nyong’o, Winston Duke, and Martin Freeman are joined by newcomers Tenoch Hurta and Dominque Thorne to deliver one of the most emotionally complex entries in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Surrounded by visual and audio production rivaled by no one, Wakanda is brought back into the MCU with a newfound sense of depth and identity. The range of emotions and excitement throughout is worth the price of admission alone.
This combination of flash and substance results in a journey of loss, grief, revenge, and acceptance. This is one of the greatest titled projects in MCU history: Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.
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The Loss of a King, the Rise of a Nation
The biggest question, concern, and challenge of this movie was how to handle the passing of Chadwick Boseman and his character, T’Challa. It is clear throughout the movie that this was the top priority for Coogler, Wright, and everyone involved.
Chadwick is present throughout this movie, and it shines through the performances of Letitia Wright and Angela Bassett. The journey of grief for Shuri is the heartbeat of the film and carries the tone across the board from sadness and anger to acceptance and peace. It is truly one of the most cathartic and heartbreaking arches the MCU has delivered to date.
It is not just the stellar performances that keep the emotional stakes of the movie present throughout. Ludwig Göransson delivers once again with a score that brings unprecedented value to the story being told. Being able to pair impactful themes with camerawork and direction that brings people back into this world leaves audiences with no choice but to smile, cry, or both.
Every character in this movie gets a moment to reflect on T’Challa’s death and adds their piece to the delicate puzzle that is Wakanda Forever.
This movie does an outstanding job of handling this real-world loss with love and thoughtfulness. At the same time, Letitia Wright uses that motivation to bring Shuri into a new tier of MCU heroes. This is a must-see performance on screen and in the writer’s room.
The Introduction of a God
Running alongside Shuri’s story of grief is the debut of Tenoch Huerta’s K’uk’ulkan, aka Namor. While Namor is objectively a rival and adversary of Wakanda, he offers a look into his world and his perspective. This gives him that MCU villain motivation that the best of the best possess.
Namor is intimidating and ruthless throughout the movie, but his love for his homeland is a perfect balance to create the ultimate Wakandan foe. That homeland is Talokan, an underwater world that is brought to life in the same way Wakanda has been over the past six years.
Namor and Talokan provide a unique and intense political struggle that allows this movie to constantly be teetering between resolution and war. While Shuri and her family’s loss is the heart of this story, it is driven by this conflict between land and sea that brings tension to virtually every scene.
The first Black Panther has hints of espionage that can go unnoticed behind the Spealbergian conceptualization of Wakanda. It is back in Wakanda Forever with a classic spy movie sequel twist, an enemy that can go toe-to-toe with Wakanda.
This balance of emotional weight and intensity-ridden suspense creates a complex tone that does not surrender to the classic MCU charm. There is a Captain America: The Winter Soldier vibe in this one that Phase 4 has lacked thus far.
A Wakandan Blockbuster
Cathartic emotional journies, intimidating invasive threats, and a whole lot of Whiz Bang to go along with it. This movie does not lack that MCU touch that many believe Eternals did, it simply redirects it to the action of the movie.
The story is more serious and heartbreaking than most MCU films, but it is cut with a range of action sequences that bring the popcorn. This includes intense and energetic chase scenes, massive set-piece battles between powerful armies, and a climactic final battle where every punch means something.
Adding a great deal to this energy is Dominque Thorne’s Riri Willaims, aka Ironheart. The newest addition to the MCU roster of heroes, Thorne brings that classic audience perspective into this world while still holding her own in every respect. With her new series set to release in Fall 2023, this is an excellent debut that will get fans excited for more Riri.
Another dash of MCU-ness is the world-building both big and small. Without getting into spoilers, let’s just say that Wakanda is set to continue being a major piece in the game of chess being played in the MCU.
Despite the sometimes polarizing reaction to the product that is Phase 4, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever continues to excel at what Phase 4 has done best: characters. From the biggest names to the supporting roles, the rebuilding phase of the MCU consistently improves its roster.
This movie was simultaneously everything it needed to be and nothing that people expected it to be. It accomplishes the seemingly insurmountable task of unexpectedly saying goodbye to Chadwick Boseman and T’Challa while still pushing its characters to a point rarely seen in this movie universe.
It never feels like it is disrespectful to the past but is constantly instilling faith in the future of the Black Panther franchise. It slows down and allows the audience to breathe and feel with the characters while delivering constant action and excitement.
For lack of a better term, this movie delivers a satisfying balance, but it is more than that. It is an accomplishment to not only overcome this adversity with tribute and love while still making it feel like a true sequel.
When Black Panther was released in 2018, it was considered more than a movie because of what it did for African culture and representation in film. Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is more than a movie. Yes, for its continued achievements in cultural representation but also for its combined heartbeat between the filmmakers, actors, and fans.
Chadwick Boseman’s death is honored without question. But what honors him, even more, is the evolution of this franchise and how the words “Wakanda Forever” will continue to ring throughout fandom for years to come.