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Review: ‘Black Panther: Wakanda Forever’ is a Blockbuster Sequel Burdened by Grief and Bound by Legacy

November 10, 2022Ben MK

Death and mourning should be no stranger to audiences who watched Tony Stark sacrifice himself to defeat Thanos at the end of Avengers: Endgame. However, with the passing of Chadwick Boseman, moviegoers were left not only to grieve the death of the beloved actor, but to mourn the loss of the indelible presence he brought to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Now, with Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, director Ryan Coogler is faced with the difficult task of finding a way forward for the titular character while also honoring Boseman's on-screen legacy. But can the hotly anticipated sequel manage to do both, all while introducing one of Marvel Comics' oldest and most complex figures into the MCU?

Addressing Boseman's death head-on, Wakanda Forever begins with a solemn scene in which King T'Challa's inventor sister, Shuri (Letitia Wright), must race against the clock to develop a synthetic heart-shaped herb to save her brother from an undisclosed illness. However, when their mother, Queen Ramonda (Angela Bassett), informs her that T'Challa has succumb to the disease, it leaves Shuri grappling with how to move on. Fast forward one year later, and Wakanda finds itself dealing with the geopolitical aftermath of their King's death, with the United Nations demanding that they share their vast Vibranium resources with the rest of the planet. Ramonda, on the other hand, knows all too well the weapons of mass destruction that would result if others got their hands on the highly coveted metal. Yet, despite her undying refusal to yield to the public pressure, it doesn't stop the world's various governments from employing more aggressive measures to achieve their goals.

Enter Riri Williams (Dominique Thorne), a gifted MIT student whose technological prowess rivals Shuri's, and who just so happens to have invented a Vibranium detector that the United States government has used to zero in on a Vibranium deposit deep below the ocean's surface. When the operation to retrieve the Vibranium awakens a brand new threat from within the uncharted depths of the sea, however, it places Riri in the crosshairs of a centuries-old mutant named Namor (Tenoch Huerta Mejía), while also placing the Wakandans in the crosshairs of CIA director Valentina Allegra de Fontaine (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), who wastes no time blaming Wakanda for the actions of Namor and his fellow citizens from the underwater city of Talokan. Will Shuri and her trusted General, Okoye (Danai Gurira), be able to protect Riri from Namor's wrath? More importantly, will Queen Ramonda bend to Namor's demands that Wakanda join forces with Talokan in launching an offensive strike against the surface world and all its inhabitants — or will Wakanda be the first nation to fall to Namor and his armies?

What follows delivers just enough spectacle and fan service to please the majority of Black Panther devotees. That said, neither the blockbuster magic of the MCU nor the cast's unwavering commitment to Coogler and co-writer Joe Robert Cole's script can hide the fact that Wakanda Forever is clearly struggling to make sense of Boseman's passing, not to mention keep audiences engaged in a storyline that spends far too much time bemoaning such weighty themes as faith and legacy, rather than taking a more action-oriented approach. Throw in the fact that it's impossible not to look at the Talokan makeup and costume design and be reminded of the Na'vi from James Cameron's Avatar franchise, and those hoping for this followup to surpass its predecessor may be left disappointed, to say the least, if not feeling the void left by Boseman's absence even more.

Make no mistake, Wright and Huerta Mejía do a more-than-commendable job carrying the dramatic weight of the film on their shoulders, stepping up to the task of portraying their conflicted and haunted characters without ever missing a beat. Where the movie falters, though, is in balancing the emotional tension of its storytelling with its action-packed set pieces. Suffice to say, there's no doubt about whether the Black Panther mantle will endure. The only question is whether the character's future adventures will actually be able to live up to Boseman's legacy. For while he may be gone, as Wakanda Forever shows, he's certainly not forgotten.

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever releases November 11th, 2022 from Walt Disney Studios. The film has an MPAA rating of PG-13 for sequences of strong violence, action and some language. Its runtime is 2 hrs. 41 min.

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