The culmination of the 4th Phase of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, a follow-up to the wildly successful Black Panther, and first sequel for the character(s) of this side of the Marvel Universe since the tragic and unexpected passing of the titular hero’s actor Chadwick Boseman, Black Panther Wakanda Forever had so much to live up to, being billed and teased as a big deal. Certainly that is what the trailer would have you believe, having you wonder what will be done in-universe about T’Challa, who will be the Black Panther (next or not), to what scale will the war between Wakanda and the Atlanteans be, what’s Namor’s deal in the MCU, how does Riri Williams fit into all this, and, most importantly will we be walking out of the theater with tears running down our faces. In a nutshell, does the sequel live up to the hype and/or was it a good movie?
In a vacuum, this movie is pretty good with a well-constructed plot, an interesting story to tell filled with nuanced and fascinating characters, solid action set pieces, good (enough) comedic timing, some great twists, and moments to tug at the heartstrings. Compared to the first movie, it is a welcome addition to both the series of Black Panther flicks and the greater MCU. Its greatest accomplishment, in regards to both the aforementioned relation to other movies, is how it tells a story within an interconnected universe but isn’t completely bound to it. Though I am sure many fans will expect appearance of long standing, fan-favorite or comic deep cut characters to play key roles, and mentions of Thanos, the snap / blip, what was going in XYZ movie to be constant, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever spends its near two and three quarters hours telling its own story with its own characters. Therefore, we’re not encumbered by setup from previous, seemingly unrelated projects or what is on the horizon for the next however many years and phases. Instead we are able to focus on a story about two warring kingdoms, the super powered champions who defend them going head to head and the consequences of their choices impacting both themselves and the people who depend on them. My only general gripes with the movie are that at times some of the CG character models are a little off, especially when in the company of actual people. This hasn’t been new with recent Marvel projects but it is still a nuisance that can be corrected with the proper amount of time, money and effort put into them in defiance of a rush job. Until then, CG people and green screened actors on a set are noticeable at best. As well, the movie is a bit long for the story told and small detours for plot explanation or the obligatory character appearance do slow it down a tad bit. It does pick back up for some stunning visual expeditions of Wakanda or Talokan or moments of character/story development.
After the death of King T’Challa, Wakanda proves itself to be the same nation capable of self-defense in the face of incursions by foreign powers with or without the Black Panther. This leads those forces to search for Vibranium elsewhere which in turn leads to the discovery of and conflict with the Mesoamerican inspired, underwater civilization of Talokan and their leader/champion Namor. His actions of self-preservation turned outward aggression, introduce an alliance between Talokan and Wakanda then squandered for all-out war between the two Vibranium rich nations. A war which a vengeful and guilt ridden Shuri finds herself in for the better or worse of everyone involved.
The movie really does a lot for every character introduced and where one could argue that it’s Shuri’s show, it’s truly an ensemble movie. Shuri’s arc of moving on from her brother’s passing and her role in it while also taking responsibility as the Black Panther is a captivating journey for the character especially when it is joined together with how others like Queen Ramonda, Nakia, and Okoye are handling their grief and roles in life. Queen Ramonda’s strength in the face of loss and invasion, Okoye’s sense of duty and responsibility in moments of weakness, and even M’baku as a voice of counsel all yield wonderful moments in the movie and great development for these characters well-acted and directed by their respective actors and director Ryan Coogler. Riri Williams’ introduction into the MCU is very well done as her tweaked origin fits well into the story of the film and adds a good audience POV and comic relief at times. Though I was never a fan of her in the comics, her Steel but in Marvel story and realistic attitude here make for a fun change of pace and entertaining entry.
Namor and the Talokans are great MCU bad guys that mirror our heroes and have relatable ideals and motives but executions that cross lines back into villainy. Namor himself has the charm and bravado of his comic counterpart with the greater comparison to Black Panther that this movie demands. Admittedly at first while I was apprehensive at the ancient Mesoamerican redesign of Atlantis into Talokan and the addition of Vibranium into their mythos, it works very well for the mirror that the film shoots for, both in consideration of a different version of Wakanda and the distinct look of the Talokans and their civilization. I will argue that the utterance of Namor’s catchphrase of “Imperius Rex” no longer makes sense with his change from Latin / Roman mythos background to that of the Yucatan.
My only specific gripe is that the grandeur of the war between Wakanda and Talokan in the third act feels lackluster. Is it executed well enough? Sure, but the amount of people on both sides of the fight measure up to a slight skirmish instead of a war or even the flooding of Wakanda by Namor in the comics (though in a completely different context). One big Wakandan ship with a medium sized army and a slightly bigger Talokan expeditionary force is not a war. Though, the fight between Shuri as the Black Panther and Namor is a knock-down, drag out spectacle mixed with a solid in-universe explanation on how she could beat someone so superhumanly (or mutantly) powerful.
Finally, in regards to the late, great Chadwick Boseman, I think the movie did right by his memory. It was an impossible task to figure what to do with this character after his tragic passing with no immediate right answer but their decision to acknowledge an in-universe character death as motivation for Shuri who in turn uses that motivation to honor T’Challa (and Chadwick) in addition to a moment of reflection and a post-credits scene that also pays tribute to the legendary actor. No CGI recreation, no nonsense explanations, just a solid story.
Black Panther Wakanda Forever is a really well put together, well executed movie and if you’ve been disappointed with Phase 4 of the MCU so far, I think this will be a nice change of pace. Solid flick worth a couple of watches, check it out.