A spoiler-free review of Marvel’s ‘Black Panther: Wakanda Forever’
An emotional tribute
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is no doubt Marvel’s most emotional movie yet. Just judging from the trailer alone, it was clear that the sequel would take on a sombre and melancholic tone as the Wakandan kingdom grieve the death of their king, T’Challa. The sequel has been the topic of much debate ever since the sudden passing of Chadwick Boseman, as fans of the comic book character were left wondering who would carry on the legacy. Ryan Coogler, who also directed the first Black Panther, had the difficult task of rewriting the already completed script and where to take the Wakandan warrior in this unknown territory.
Despite the hard hand that Coogler was dealt with, Wakanda Forever was a stunning film that delivered the breadth and depth of grief and loss. As a Marvel fan who has been following the MCU, I personally felt that Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is the best Phase Four movie so far. In saying that though, there were still some aspects of the almost three-hour long film that did fall short for me. Below, here is my spoiler-free review of Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.
Going in, it was clear that a bulk of the plot would revolve around T’Challa’s death, who would step up to take his place as the Black Panther, and how Wakanda grapples with this huge absence. Naturally, this would make a much more serious plot but I found myself appreciating this. Considering the (over)quirkiness of Thor: Love and Thunder and the mystic mayhem of Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, Marvel Phase Four was in need of a serious film to save it from the impending superhero fatigue.
Thankfully, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is the answer to this. Whilst there was plenty of action to propel the plot forward, it was still a very character-driven story that slowed the pace down and brought a great deal of humanity to these superpowered beings. There were no quippy jokes every 15 seconds (you will still laugh out loud in certain scenes, though) and the script took its time to explore many complex emotions, especially with Shuri and Queen Ramonda.
Apart from this important plot point, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever also introduced a very important character in the form of Namor. From the trailer, he is portrayed as the leader of an underwater civilisation of blue people (there’s an Avatar joke in here somewhere) and looks every bit a menacing antagonist. I enjoyed how Coogler weaved Namor’s backstory to parallel that of Shuri’s current predicament so his introduction into this highly emotional and personal film didn’t seem out of place. Having a secondary plot exploring the power struggle between these two great nations was also really interesting as MCU fans could finally see another world power that matched Wakanda’s strength and skill in military and technology.
In saying that, I did feel like at least 30 minutes of the runtime could have been shaved off for much tighter narrative cohesion. In two hours and 41 minutes, it does a fairly good job of tackling big issues. However, some scenes could have been left out, be it the comedic scenes that felt like fillers, or side quests that didn’t really add anything to the overall narrative. I would have much preferred if they used that time instead to delve deeper into characterisations and motivations. This issue was a lot more apparent to me in the third final act of the film.
Plot aside, the visuals in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever are simply stunning. Marvel may have been involved in some news regarding the rushed and incomplete nature of their CGI (and the first Black Panther was definitely a victim of this) however, Wakanda Forever was thankfully not. Instead, the CGI felt like a lot of time was painstakingly put to bring us back to the wonders of Wakanda.
The first movie promised that the Black Panther franchise would be nothing short of a visual feast, championing African heritage and culture. In Wakanda Forever, this was ever more prevalent as the blend between futuristic technology and ancient traditions created such captivating cinematography that it truly does take your breath away. I found that Coogler’s use of slow-motion effects, which wasn’t in the first film, was properly utilised and made these scenes even more remarkable.
Without spoiling too much, a huge highlight was how they brought Namor’s underwater domain to life. There was incredible detail and worldbuilding during these scenes that you can’t help but be in awe of. Further, the character design of the Talokans were very well-made as they utilised a lot of water motifs such as coral patterns and seaweed into their costume designs. You get the sense of vastness when you’re underwater in Talokan which makes me excited for what else it holds in future installments.
This is where Wakanda Forever truly shines. At the heart of the story is a family grieving their son and brother, which Angela Bassett and Letitia Wright played out beautifully.
Bassett, who plays Queen Ramonda, was the standout for me in the entire film. She is a fierce protector of her kingdom and commands every bit of your attention. While I felt she was underutilised in the first film, she really shined in Wakanda Forever as she balances the tightrope between Queen and mother extremely well. I definitely do think Bassett’s performance could grant her an Oscar nomination.
For someone who was initially created to be a supporting character, Letitia Wright as Shuri was also very impressive. This was obviously not something Wright knew when she first signed on to the project and to suddenly be thrust into the spotlight as the main bearer of the franchise must have been huge pressure for her, but Wright gave her best acting performance to date. I especially loved the inner conflict Shuri experiences as someone of science and logic who also has to uphold ancient Wakandan traditions and beliefs. She’s someone who questions, breaks the rules and paves her own path, and seeing someone who is usually so strong and independent find herself in the centre of an identity crisis and her journey out of that, was incredibly rewarding.
As the antagonist of the film, Namor is perhaps one of the characters I will be thinking of for a long while. Much like Thanos, audiences will be split on his intentions as he may come out looking like a villain, but he also has great reason to be. His story arc is made to parallel Shuri’s which I thought was well-written and made him easier to empathise with. There is also a part where he’s explaining his origin to Shuri that hints at a later MCU crossover in a blink-and-you-miss-it way—I am more than excited to see how that plays out.
A new character that was also introduced was Riri Williams, a 19-year-old scientist prodigy who very much mirrors Shuri’s genius. While I do enjoy Dominique Thorne’s performance, I struggled to see how Williams fit into the overall narrative apart from being just a mere device to escalate the plot. In contrast, I appreciated that M’Baku was much more utilised in the sequel rather than serving as comedic relief. You do see his mature, serious side as he councils Shuri and even strategises on combat plans. Okoye, played by Danai Gurira, was a personal favourite as I loved the chemistry and cat-and-mouse energy between her and Shuri, which offered some lightness amidst the heavy tone of the movie.
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever does live up to the hype and more. It was a beautiful tribute to Chadwick Boseman which was done articulately, and not in any way exploitative. For me, it is undoubtedly Marvel’s best Phase Four film and the perfect way to close out this era of the MCU, after some less than stellar features.
The visuals and characters really carried the film for me; however, certain storylines and scenes could have been better explored or dropped altogether for more streamlined narrative execution. This should not detract you from seeing the movie if you haven’t though, because it will still surely tug at your heart strings, especially with Rihanna’s original soundtrack Lift Me Up (if you heard ugly crying in the cinema, it wasn’t me).
Final rating: 7.5/10
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