Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, a thunderous victory

Wakanda Forever: Black Panther It is a film that combines many different perspectives. At its heart, it’s a story about grief: the ways people grieve, the love born out of grief, and the anger that emerges from having lost something worth grieving. It’s a film about the ebb and flow between science and faith, the struggle between technology and tradition in the frantic search for answers to unanswerable questions. Ultimately, it’s a story about the resiliency of those who fight and live on in the face of insurmountable odds, and in honor of those who left us far too soon, yet still live on in our hearts.

[Ed. note: This is a spoiler-free review. Further in-depth coverage of the film’s plot points to come, marked with spoiler warnings.]

The premise of Ryan Coogler’s follow-up to his 2018 film Black Panther arises so organically from its predecessor that most of the turbulence around the film’s production is left invisible. In Black Panther, Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) destroys Wakanda’s entire supply of the heart-shaped herb — the bioluminescent flower responsible for endowing Wakanda’s hero-protector, the Black Panther, with regenerative vitality and superhuman strength. And T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) chooses to reveal Wakanda’s true power on the global stage.

Both are equally important. Wakanda Forever: Black Panther, as Boseman’s death in 2020, a loss so monumental that proceeding without acknowledging it — via the “I’m a different person now; let’s move on” method that the Marvel Cinematic Universe used to recast Edward Norton’s version of Bruce Banner, or Terrence Howard’s take on Col. James “Rhodey” Rhodes — would be an unconscionable disservice. And not only to his memory, but to the impact Boseman had on developing Black Panther’s character, and the impact that Black Panther a positive impact on its audience.

Image: Marvel Studios

King T’Challa is dead. Nearly one year after his sudden death, his loved ones and friends continue to mourn, retreating into their respective obligations and habits to protect themselves from the emotional pain of their loss. The outside world is focusing its attention on Wakanda and vying for its valuable resources. An even greater threat emerges in the form of the mythical underwater city of Talokan and its leader: the wing-footed mutant Namor (Tenoch Huerta), who’s worshiped by his people as a living god.

As a consequence of T’Challa deciding to share the truth about Wakanda’s technological advances with the rest of the world at the end of Black Panther, Namor has reason to believe Earth will soon discover Talokan’s existence. This threat motivates him to rise from deep under the ocean and declare war against the surface. His actions quickly make Namor an enemy of Wakanda, and Queen Ramonda (Angela Bassett), its ruler. Namor is not deterred by this. If Wakanda will not back his war, then as far as he’s concerned, they can catch these hands too.

Like Black Panther Before it Wakanda Forever Arrives in American theaters during a time of great importance and political uncertainty both in its own universe as well as in our real-world culture. The original film — which brought to life the dream of the African diaspora in the form of Wakanda, an African nation that was never conquered or despoiled of its resources by Western powers — was released just a month after Donald Trump derided African nations, Haiti, and El Salvador as “shithole countries.” The timing was so perfect and poetic, it was impossible to believe that it was accidental.

A man in an elaborate feather headdress (played by Tenoch Huerta) and cape swims in front of a gigantic glowing sphere in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.

Image: Marvel Studios

Wakanda Forever It somehow feels more intimately woven into its own tapestry, which is both remarkable and fitting. With T’Challa’s death (and Boseman’s) at its crux, Wakanda Forever This film is darker and more complex than its predecessor. Coogler’s script, co-credited to Joe Robert Cole, focuses on the ways in which grief can morph into something awful and hateful under duress, and if left unresolved for too long. Shuri and Namor, in their respective mourning, are foils. They highlight the self-destructive ways that denying grief only serves it to prolong it.

The resemblances extend to their respective cultures, with Wakanda and Talokan — though continents and oceans apart — sharing a common spirit of defensive isolationism born out of fear of the destructive abuses of colonialism. Both nations regard their anointed leaders like gods. However, their powers may or may not come from the same supernatural force. This adds to their inevitable conflict.

Coogler’s sequel is a more somber affair than 2018’s Black PantherIt has its moments, but it is also full of humor. These moments are perhaps even more beautiful because of the darkness. In the absence of T’Challa, Shuri finds camaraderie in the company of Okoye (Danai Gurira), the general of the Dora Milaje honor guard, and T’Challa’s former lover Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o), an older-sister figure who offers consolation and commiseration. Shuri’s rapid bond with Riri Williams (Dominique Thorne), an MIT student and fellow child prodigy, offers her something she’s never had before: a friend who understands what it’s like to be young, Black, and exceptional in a world that casually resents people who are any of those things, let alone all three.

A group of blue-skinned Talokan warriors stand in the middle of a bridge at night, one of them wearing an elaborate orange feathered helmet, in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.

Image: Marvel Studios

But of all the relationships in the film, perhaps none are more significant than the evolving bond between Shuri and M’Baku (Winston Duke). Where years before, the leader of the Jabari Tribe challenged T’Challa in ritual combat for the throne and dismissed Shuri as nothing more than a child scoffing at tradition, M’Baku cares for and now has great respect for her, at one point telling her, “You have lost too much to still be considered a child.”

The cast is all outstanding. Huerta is a powerhouse of charisma and self-assurance as Namor. He glides through the sky with ease and agility, akin to Hermes from Greek myth. Angela Bassett’s performance as Ramonda goes right for the heartstrings, conjuring the unmistakable poise and regality of a queen in mourning, forced to shoulder both the grief of her loss and the fate of a nation. Michaela Coel You may be destroyed fame shows up in a brief yet significant supporting role as the Dora Milaje warrior Aneka, whose exosuit was inspired by Brian Stelfreeze’s artistic work on Ta-Nehisi Coates’ run of Black Panther comics.

And then, of course, there’s Letitia Wright, whose lead performance as Shuri serves as the entire film’s emotional anchor. Wright delivers a powerful depiction of a young woman who, having lost both her father and her brother in such a short period of time, is forced to question everything she’s ever known about herself, her people, and her role in the world, both as a scientist and as a member of the Wakandan royal family.

Shuri (Letitia Wright) stands in a throne room surrounded by pillars of fire reflected against pools of water in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.

Image: Marvel Studios

The overall action, including all the inevitable CG set-pieces shows a marked improvement. Black Panther. In what feels like a reprise of the chase scene between T’Challa and Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis) through the streets of Busan, an action sequence set in Cambridge, Massachusetts, builds to similarly explosive effect. This is just the beginning of the film’s second half. It features elaborate choreography, dizzying cinematography, and some of Marvel’s best performances to date. The lighting in the nighttime sequences is horrible, obscuring the characters’ actions to a level that defies even the most charitable interpretation of artistic intent.

As with the first film. Wakanda Forever’s soundtrack and score remain one of the film’s central draws. Ludwig Göransson returns to compose the score for Wakanda Forever, He once again hits the mark, bringing back the African-inspired sound from the first film and then adding a touch of Mesoamerican instruments, chants, and music.

The film runs for just 160 minutes. Wakanda Forever The film’s action sequences are well-paced and move quickly, while its more serious moments never lag behind. Its well-crafted and economical storytelling is a feat in and of itself, not to mention the film as a whole.

There are moments in Wakanda Forever It feels like the film is about to give up on its core concept. When it manages not only to meet the verve and creativity of 2018’s Black PantherIt will eventually tell its own success story, but it will feel no less amazing than a man with wings on both his ankles, soaring through the air. As surely as love can blossom from heartache, Wakanda Forever: Black Panther He has made tragedy triumphant.

Wakanda Forever: Black Panther Premieres in Theaters Nov. 11.

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