Black Panther: Wakanda Forever continues the story of Black Panther in the best way. It doesn’t shy away from the tragic passing of Chadwick Boseman by merely recasting him or writing him out of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. He instead plays a pivotal role in what is easily the best of Phase IV.
Wakanda Without Black Panther
A year of mourning has turned Wakanda into a different place in many ways. T’Challa’s mother Ramonda (Angela Bassett) has taken over the throne and rules with warranted defensiveness. After all, everybody wants a piece of their sweet Vibranium when there’s no Black Panther defending from invaders.
Thankfully, Wakanda remains strong with the stern Okoye (Danai Gurira) and astute Shuri (Letitia Wright). Sadly, Shuri still hasn’t fully accepted T’Challa’s death. This is especially true after she came so close to saving him.
The Stronger Kingdom
While Wakanda can defend itself against outsider countries just fine, they’re presented with its greatest challenger yet. The underwater kingdom of Talokan feels threatened by the CIA attempting to unearth them. To keep their people a secret, the Talokan tribe leaves no survivors.
The Talokan are led by Namor (Tenoch Huerta), a mutant who can breathe underwater and fly through the sky with wings on his feet. As he later reveals, his people have lived in secrecy with Vibranium after experiencing the atrocities of slavery. Sounds similar to Wakanda, right?
The Conundrum of Killing
Where the kingdoms split, similar to most villains, is their method of protection. While the Wakandans take prisoners, Namor does not. Talokan is also not open to negotiation either, giving Wakanda an ultimatum on their alliance.
This is a great staging for presenting a credible yet concerning threat to Wakanda. Namor and Shuri connect as they’re both bound by loss and struggle to find a sense of justice. Their battle is intriguing beyond just who will win in combat, becoming more fascinating for those who will learn the tough lessons of protecting their people.
Shuri’s journey to becoming the Black Panther will have some similar beats to the first film. She goes about most of the same process that T’Challa had to undertake to rise to such a title. Yet she’s presented with different paths and challenges that T’Challa did have to face prior.
The challenge is far more personal where it’s not so much about Shuri changing the system as it is about herself rising above her bitterness from loss. It makes for an enthralling adventure that beautifully weaves Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o) back into the story as both an emotional anchor and a cunning spy.
A New Iron Man
One of the newest additions to the cast bound for future projects is Riri Williams (Dominique Thorne). In the comics, she becomes the Iron Man successor Ironheart and you will get to see her don that mechanical suit in the film. That being said, her introductions are a bit rushed and rocky.
It’s a shame because Riri is a pretty fun and relatable character. Her best scenes are when she is thrown into the spy plot that forces her to work with Shuri and Okoye. If only that chemistry continued into the finale which gives the characters more to fight than play off each other.
Dominique Thorne is set to reprise her role as Riri Williams in her own Disney+ series titled Ironheart.
The biggest problem with Wakanda Forever is that it has too many characters wedged into a narrative that many get severely reduced. Some do get an expansion though. It’s particularly cool how much more we got of Winston Duke in the role of the brash warrior M’Baku.
The one character who adds the least to this story is Everett Ross (Martin Freeman). Ross still works for the CIA and has contact with Wakanda but in a very sporadic way. He’d be a cameo if it weren’t for a diced-up C-plot involving him and Valentina Allegra de Fontaine, which feels like scenes from a completely different movie.
Where It Counts
While the film is certainly more crowded than its predecessor, it has a much stronger emotional core. So many moments hit the perfect beat of touching upon dealing with loss. Considering how much Phase IV has been about this theme, this is easily one of the best of this collection of films.
This focus on the theme makes so many familiar elements shine brighter. A better feeling washed over me as a bitter Shuri marches into battle as the new Black Panther. Her vengeance-driven crusade requires more than just an army to conquer her shortcomings and it plays out in a beautiful climate.
The Many Effects
Of course, the common criticism that accompanies all Marvel movies is the quality of the visual effects. While the effects are decent, they certainly show their compositing lines with such elaborate sequences. It seems unavoidable when you have an underwater army of warriors who ride whales and launch through the skies.
The sequences are at least daring enough to admire the ambition. The grand showdown at sea is pretty stellar for Talokan attacking the tall hull of a Wakandan submarine. Watching Wakandan warriors scale the walls as they battle with spears is a pretty exciting scene.
A Heartfelt Ode
Boseman’s death is given more importance in this film beyond the obligatory tribute to the actor. There was a touching opening featuring all of Boseman’s performances in the opening Marvel Studios logo. There’s also the In Memory tribute that precedes the credits.
Yet there’s a bigger ode present in the Wakanda Forever mid-credit scene. This is easily one of the best Easter eggs pushed into a Marvel Studios movie because it means so much. Without giving it away, it’s not just another “Who will the hero fight next” type of scene.
Conclusion: Black Panther: Wakanda Forever
Wakanda Forever manages to be a solid sequel and the best of the MCU Phase IV. It’s a thrilling action film, sure, but also a meaningful fantasy epic about more than broad themes. In terms of following up on Chadwick Boseman’s death, this film moves on brilliantly by being a film entirely about moving on.
Even with all its shortcomings, there’s so much about this film that hits hard. The emotions run deep, the epic nature of the fantasy can be felt, and the adventure feels meaningful in more ways than one. There’s little doubt that this is one of Marvel Studio’s best films post-Endgame.
Did you see Black Panther: Wakanda Forever in the theater? How does it compare to the first Black Panther movie? Is it the best movie of Phase IV? Let us know in the comments below.
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is currently playing in theaters.