It is never easy to come up with a worthy sequel after a film as successful as the first Black Panther was, and the tragic, untimely death of Chadwick Boseman made the mission of director Ryan Coogler and his colleagues twice as hard, as they had to produce an enjoyable movie which also serves as a fitting tribute to the late actor.
In the second Black Panther movie, Wakandans are defending their nation from both world powers still hungry to get their hands on a source of vibranium and a previously unknown threat emerging from the bottom of the ocean. Since the famous Black Panther is no longer there to be their guardian, the leaders of Wakanda have to band together closer than ever before if they want their country to survive.
With the death of King T’Challa, which starts the film off on a solemn note, it falls to the side characters of the first movie to carry the show. While the focus is certainly on T’Challa’s tech-savvy younger sister Shuri, played by Letitia Wright, other characters such as War Dogs Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o) and Okoye (Danai Gurira), Queen Ramonda (Angela Bassett), and Jabari tribe leader M’Baku (Winston Duke) all get their minutes in the limelight. Another returnee is CIA agent Everett Ross, played by Martin Freeman, who is perhaps the best choice for any director looking for someone to cast as an awkwardly behaving, somewhat incompetent good guy.
Wright plays the role of Shuri with ease, showcasing a wide range of emotions while trying to fill the shoes of T’Challa throughout the film, and folks, it is certainly worth staying in your seats through the first few minutes of the credits in order to see perhaps the most touching scene in Wakanda Forever. Some of her interactions and bonding with the young, aspiring American inventor Riri (Dominique Thorne), who stirs the pot by inventing a machine that can effectively find vibranium, are also among the finest moments of the film.
An Underwater Threat
Every good superhero flick needs a quality villain, and in the case of this film, it is Namor (Tenoch Huerta), who acts as the leader of a rich and fiercely protective underwater civilization called Talokan, which absolutely does not wish to share their source of vibranium with the outside world, taking an aggressive stance which triggers an alarm in the international community. The origin story of Namor and the underwater scenes are perhaps the strongest points in the movie, with some great CGI work evoking the atmosphere of an Aztec-inspired underwater metropolis marvelously. The battle scenes where the Wakandans are trying to fend off this new underwater threat are also quite spectacular, and also quite dramatic due to some heroic sacrifices made to save innocent lives.
Now, while scenes in fantasy settings are quite exciting, the film’s CIA subplot set in America seems a bit flat, especially compared to the importance of Ross in the first Black Panther film. Here, he mostly just squabbles with his ex/boss (played by Elaine Benes… err I mean Julia Louis-Dreyfus), while trying to protect Wakandan secrets, and for sure, there are a few fun moments, but these scenes add unnecessary extra minutes to an already long film.
And here we arrive at the main weak point of “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever”. It is just too long, clocking in at slightly over 2 hours and 40 minutes. The pace just feels a bit off in many places, and while putting the focus on the many supporting heroes of the previous film is generally a good idea, it also comes with the curse of having to give a great number of cast members a lot of screen time to explain their backstories.
Cover Credit: Marvel Studios
“Black Panther: Wakanda Forever”;
Director: Ryan Coogler;
Actors: Letitia Wright, Angela Bassett, Tenoch Huerta, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira;
American superhero action film, 161 minutes, 2022