The Marvel Cinematic Universe returns to the big screen with the sequel to 2018’s genre-defining Black Panther. A film that introduced the greater world to the idea of Afro-futurism and was defined through Chadwick Boseman’s powerful and iconic portrayal of the character.
A herculean asking
Ryan Coogler has time and time again proved that he is easily in the top bracket of Directors in the industry. This time Coogler didn’t only face the problem of making a sequel to Marvel Studios’ only Best Picture Academy Award nominated film, but also had to respectfully and powerfully take the mantle of the Black Panther forward after the tragic loss of Chadwick Boseman in 2019. Chadwick Boseman not only brought to life Black Panther with great power, but also made him a cultural icon. His lovable, charming, wise, and fearless portrayal of the character inspired Billions across the world and brought in a cultural shift in the industry and the MCU. Coogler and Boseman had been friends for years and had equal part in making Black Panther a success, so to first personally deal with the loss of a friend, and then to celebrate him in such a glorious way, while insuring that fans accept this new Black Panther, was a truly herculean ask. I am glad to report that Coogler did all that and more with Wakanda Forever, making an intimate film about a family dealing with the loss of someone so integral to their life and everyone around them’s world, whille providing breathtaking set pieces, action, and a cohesive story with a great villain. But was bringing in Talokan the right call in a film already dealing with so much? It does feel overstuffed at parts, but that is easily forgotten using the film’s dive into emotions, thrills and spectacular action.
“What is love if not grief persevering”
Black Panther: Wakanda Forver embodies this beautiful line by Vision. The film in its entirety is an effective celebration of Chadwick Boseman’s Black Panther and an exploration of how much the people around him relied on him and how they get over this loss, making. themselves stronger in the process. It’s a story so intimate and human at it’s core that even amidst this war between these 2 futuristic fictional nations, the film feels grounded and the stakes feel real. Shuri lost her brother who she had always depended on , whose support she needed more than she knew, Angela Bastett’s Queen Ramonda has lost her son, while she deals with a world now turned against her people, Nakia faces the loss of her true irreplacable love, Wakanda faces the loss of their hero and leader, and we the audience feel the very real loss of Chadwick Boseman, the man who stole the world’s hearts with his iconic portrayal of the character. The decision made by marvel to not recast T’Challa makes a lot of sense after viewing the film, every moment when the characters are dealing with their emotions is real, with the cast dealing with the real loss of their friend and leader, and us the audience feeling the loss of someone we had come to admire. The grief and hurt that the entire cast faced can be felt through their performances, as Angela Bastett, Letitia Wright and Lupita Nyong’o give us the performance of their lives. The film, However, doesn’t only rely on this, but only uses it to hook you in, bringing in lots of humor, action and thrill. Giving us a real war between 2 nations, but keeping the motional core of the film alive.
Letitia Wright is still easily the core of the film. She acts as the key to both the emotional core and the fun side of the film. SHe is the balance, and she makes you cheer and cry for her at the same time. Her relationship with Wakanda and her family make you feel what she’s lost, while her relationship with Riri Williams and the Talokans showcases a stronger side of her grief.
What had always surprised me about Wakanda Forever, is why marvel would choose a film which is dedicated to the loss of The Black Panther, to introduce us to a new world. But wow, does Namor and Talokan deliver. Namor’s life is explored and it provides a great mirroring but also contrast to Shuri and Wakanda’s journey. This provides an incredibly compelling setup for the character and makes you even feel scared of him. Namor isn’t going to back down and will do anything for his people, giving us one of the best villains marvel has ever produced. Marvel Studios’ decision to turn Atlantis into Talokan based on Native American culture is a true triumph. The exploration of that culture is done extremely respectfully, thoughtfully and in a way that makes you appreciate the power of these people. The beautiful art, costumes and imagery is amazing to see and is bound to put a smile on your face. Tenoch Huerta’s sheer charm and fierceness propel the character to greater heights.
Quality is Key
Another region where Wakanda Forever shines far above anything in Phase 4 off the MCU is in the generally quality of the visuals, the acting, and the writing. Nearly every shot of the film looks perfect. With Marvel’s recent controversies regarding underpaying VFX artists, and some mediocre visuals in recent projects like She-Hulk and Thor: Love And Thunder, Wakanda Forever brings back the quality we have learned to expect from the studio. The Talokan scenes have all been shot underwater using the technology made by the Avatar: the Way of The Water team and the results are truly stunning. The creativity shown in the way Riri WIlliams’ Iron Heart, Namor and Shuri fight is great to see, and makes sure the film is still fun and thrilling to watch. All of this works amazingly in making the war between Talokan and Wakanda feel real. The sound design and brilliant score by Ludwig Gorranson puctuate the emotional moments perfectly and elevate the action and thrill.
The quality in writing is also unparalleled compared to the rest of Phase 4, and how could it not, as the film begins it becomes clear the headspace Ryan Coogler was in when he wrote the film. His grief could be felt through the character’s discovery of how to deal with this loss and their grief. The exploration of how different people deal with grief is not only beautiful, but also provides a beautiful perspective on the situation, making it about the celebration of the person. It doesn’t feel like T’Challa isn’t in this film because of how crucial he is to everything in it, and by the end you learn to let go and celebrate what you have.
Wakanda Forever is a perfect Celebration of Chadwick’s legacy. A thrilling & exciting spectacle, hooking you in using powerful and intimate exploration of grief. Then takes you on a roller coaster of exhilarating action & drama. The cast pour their hearts out, and so does Ryan Coogler through the script. Sure the film can feel long at times, but the slow moments are needed to deal with the important issues at hand. This takes the sweet spot at Number 6 in my MCU ranking, and Number 1 on films for 2022. In the end the film brings a lot of surprises, heart break, emotion, thrill, all with relentless quality. Angela Bastett for Best Supporting Actress, Letitia Wright Best Actress Lead, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever Best Picture.
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever hits Theaters this Weekend!