Black Panther: Wakanda Forever
Starring Letitia Wright, Angela Bassett, Lupita Nyong’o, Tenoch Huerta, Danai Gurira, Martin Freeman, Winston Duke, Julia Louis Dreyfus
The “Black Panther” sequel has a heavier burden than most films. As we see in the prologue, before the title card, “Wakanda Forever” is functioning partly as a tribute to the late Chadwick Boseman. Director Ryan Coogler returns to the franchise with even more responsibility than the original. It’s a juggling act of delivering a sequel to one of the most successful comic book adaptations of all time, honoring the T’challa legacy, and setting up the future of the “Black Panther” world. The female power displayed in “Wakanda Forever” is a sight. Letitia Wright takes the narrative forward, but Bassett grounds the sequel and gives a stirring performance. This film’s many rituals, legends, spiritual elements, and mutants make it feel like it has bitten more than it can chew.
Restrengthening after the loss of their king, Wakanda demonstrates to the UN and the world that just because Black Panther is gone does not mean they are weak. As first-world countries seek the Wakanda power source vibranium for their destructive purposes, an underwater empire, hundreds of years old, makes its presence known. They, too, have vibranium resources, diluting Wakandan’s ideology that they were the only kingdom in control of that power. Queen Ramonda (Bassett) flexes her strength as the new leader, while princess Shuri (Wright) continues to create artificial intelligence to bolster Wakanda’s strength. Namor (Gurira), the king and god-like figure of Talokan, the kingdom under the sea, threatens that Wakanda either join in destroying “surface” powers or become their enemy.
In addition to the female powerplays and stunning displays of diversity, another strength within the script is the charm of villain Namor.
There are many sequences where you could step back and look at the screen and wonder if you accidentally walked into the “Avatar” sequel, as the Talokan people with blue skin and Aztec origins resemble the upcoming James Cameron film. The numerous underwater sequences resemble an “Aquaman” sequel. Whether coincidental or not, these similarities only add to the dynamic nature of the complex film. In addition to the female powerplays and stunning displays of diversity, another strength within the script is the charm of villain Namor. He’s a villain, but his actions are justified, which the audience sees in detailed flashbacks. Gurira’s performance is also equally part of the rare praiseworthy Marvel villain.
When we finally get there, the epic conclusion isn’t so epic. It’s a bit of a letdown for a film with such high stakes. Other elements of the script unnecessarily bloat the film’s running time, like the teenage female Iron Man that’s written as nothing more than a plot device. By the time Shuri gets around to reinventing Black Panther (no spoilers, it’s literally in the title), we have already settled into the idea of the panther concept being absent from the plotline. The award-winning costumes from the original are bolder and more decadent this time. The color pallets and production design are equally or more impressive than before. The cultural significance, however, isn’t this sequel’s strong point.
Wakanda Forever is a Black Panther, Avatar, and Aquaman sequel all rolled into one with a stunning display of female superpowers.